In the great resignation, staff seek more than money

Covid has seen many of us switch jobs. There are various reasons for the moves, with financial gain low on the list


Side view of mature man with laptop working outdoors in garden, home office concept.

There’s been much talk lately of the ‘Great Resignation’, a post-Covid wave of employees handing in their notice. Research by recruitment firm Randstad has found that almost a quarter (24%) of employees in the UK plan to move jobs within the next six months. 

What’s behind the trend? For many, it’s about far more than money: it’s a direct response to how former employers handled the pandemic. 

One law firm associate attributes his move to just such factors. “I was not really happy how the [previous] firm had treated staff during the Covid lockdowns,” he says, citing redundancies and salary cuts. “There was also a lack of clarity about paths to career progression and promotion. The combination of this made me start to look at other employment opportunities.” Salary was not a motivating factor, he adds, beyond seeking parity with his former job. 

A customer success specialist in the software sector recently moved to a similar role at a different company. He was motivated by a mixture of frustration with his former role and a change in circumstances. “During lockdown, we sold our home and relocated two hours from our hometown to be nearer to extended family,” he says. “At the end of last year, I was promoted and promised a pay rise. However, due to Covid and the impact on the business, there was a pay freeze. As you can imagine, this was demotivating.” 

The main pull of his current role was the fact it is fully remote, he says. Without the pandemic, he would have likely remained with his former employer, he adds. 

New motivations

These aren’t the only factors driving people to move roles. Others have used the pandemic and furlough periods to reassess what they want from their career. Digital marketing executive Amy Williamson moved from working brand-side at structural external wall insulation manufacturer Structherm to an in-house role at Saltaire-based digital agency Xpand. 

“During the pandemic, I was furloughed until the construction industry was classed as essential work,” she says. “This gave me a lot of time to think. There was a realisation for me that life is short, and I wanted to ensure that when I got older I didn’t have any regrets about my career. Personal development has always been important to me, but because I was happy in my previous role, I lost sight of wanting to do more. I knew that I wanted to do things which had a positive impact on my mental health, and that meant following my dreams to work agency-side.”

Life suddenly seemed too fragile and short to stick doing something that wasn’t quite right

At the start of the pandemic, 41-year-old Barry Hicks had been working in the construction industry for more than seven years. Like Williamson, he was put on furlough, and took the chance to rethink his life choices. “The construction sector is the harshest industry I’ve worked in and extremely long hours come with the job,” he says. “I would often leave for work at 5.30am and not return until 8pm.”

Having been inspired to work with children by his own young family, he enrolled in a staff-in-training course at young persons’ care support service Kibble, where he completed an HNC in social services. “I can honestly say this has been the best move I’ve ever made,” he says. “I am now able to spend more time with the family and manage my shifts around life. I reflect much more now on the impact I’ve made during a day’s work and believe the role has made me a better person.”

Some have opted for a completely fresh start. One designer previously worked at a London-based agency but moved back to his native Scotland at the height of the pandemic. 

“During this time I started to feel quite disconnected from my studio; there was a lack of support, social interaction or collaborative working and I realised that, for my career to progress, it couldn’t happen there,” he says. 

He now works for a new agency in a different part of England. “Flexible working was a major factor for me joining,” he explains. “I was looking out for an opportunity that would allow me to move whenever the time was right for me, giving me time to find somewhere to live. But I wanted to actually be going into a studio – I missed the social and collaborative aspect.”

A new flexibility

Others were driven by practical concerns, with the economic impact of Covid pushing them into new roles. Melissa Hull previously ran her own small business consultancy, but work dried up during the pandemic. “I had savings and hunkered down at home, using the time to read and take courses,” she says. 

There was a realisation for me that life is short, and I wanted to ensure that … I didn’t have any regrets

After being approached by integrated B2B tech marketing firm Fox Agency, she accepted the position of CFO. The flexibility on offer was a major pull. “I’m not tied to London which meant that during the summer I was able to work from Italy,” she says. “There is so much to see and do in the world and working for a company that understands that is really refreshing.”

Others took the opposite route. Patrick Southwell, co-founder of PR agency Five Not 10, left a full-time role and fulfilled his dream of setting up his own business. “I wanted to be the master of my own destiny, free of the complications of a big organisation,” he says. “Life suddenly seemed too fragile and short to stick doing something that wasn’t quite right. I realised the only way to get a job that was as close to perfect as it could be was to create it myself. Without the pandemic, I would probably still be in the same role as before, not feeling fulfilled.”