Quarter of UK workforce could quit as Great Resignation rolls on

21 August 2023 Consultancy.uk 4 min. read
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While many economists expected the worsening economic picture to bring the Great Resignation to a close, it seems to have actually exacerbated it in the UK. With employers steadfast in failing to raise wages in line with the country’s abnormally high rate of inflation, more than a quarter of the workforce is considering leaving roles to find better-paid work elsewhere, according to a new study.

Since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, millions of workers have left their jobs. The so-called Great Resignation represents a previously unprecedented event in the labour market, as following two years of home-working and public health measures amid the global pandemic, many members of the workforce have re-evaluated what they expect from employers.

After a period in which their work – and their willingness to make sacrifices – have been shown so overtly to be crucial for the success of their employers, many workers are now substantially less willing to settle for ‘business as usual.’ As a result, job vacancies in the UK remain at historic highs, with previous research from Grant Thornton finding 63% of mid-sized businesses alone were also experiencing unusually high attrition rates.

Financial hardship is more widespread than in 2022

In the US, the trend seems to have momentarily slowed, according to data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. With the number of workers quitting moving toward pre-pandemic levels on the other side of the Atlantic, this led one particular article from the BBC’s Worklife section to declare “the Great Resignation is over”. But new research from PwC suggests that this conclusion might be jumping the gun somewhat – at least when it comes to the UK.

PwC surveyed close to 54,000 individuals who are in work or active in the labour market – including around 2,000 in the UK. The sample was designed to reflect a range of industries, demographic characteristics and working patterns. And while traditionally, economists, governments and business owners might have relied on economic crises and inflation to discipline labour into remaining at work in spite of declining wages and conditions, PwC found that the current cost-of-living crisis is motivating more workers to look elsewhere.

With inflation having risen at a much faster rate than wages over the past 18 months, Britain’s employees are increasingly struggling with the cost-of-living crisis. A 47% portion of the workforce have little to no money left over at the end of the month after expenses, and a further 15% say their household struggles to pay all or some of the bills every month. In comparison, the average of the global workforce who have little to no money left is below that of the UK, at 42%.

Which of the following describes why you have taken on more than one job?

While earnings finally seems to be catching up with inflation – basic earnings rising by 7.8% according to the Bank of England, with inflation falling to 6.8% in July 2023 – that means the situation might not be getting worse for workers, but it is still its worst in decades. Recent research concluded the average household will be £2,300 worse off by the end of the current financial year. As a result, 23% expect to change jobs within the next 12 months – up from 18% in 2022 – according to PwC's survey, indicating the Great Resignation is alive and kicking in the UK, albeit for different reasons from the ones that led to it beginning.

Head of People and Organisation at PwC UK Sarah Moore commented, It's clear that workplace dissatisfaction looms large – with pay, workload and overall fulfilment at the top of employees' minds. As economic conditions remain uncertain, employers will have less means to respond through pay, so will need to find more flexible and innovative approaches to engaging their staff. Organisations who continue to prioritise their people and invest in programmes focussed on wellbeing, flexible working, career progression and more personalised benefits will reap the rewards of employee loyalty."

Globally, the number of employees who would change jobs in the coming year also rose, from 19% to 26%. Meanwhile, a fifth of workers were also taking on a second job to make ends meet. While many reasons were at play for this, the run-away factor was to make more money – cited by 69% of respondents. In the UK, this was lower, with 12% of workers saying they now have more than one job – but an even higher 70% citing earning more money as the reason why. This situation has been developing for some time now, with the UK’s ‘side-hustle economy’ having become worth £346 billion during the hardship of the lockdown months.