The Great Resignation & Its Impact on Packaging Teams

March 11,2022 Category: Staffing
In November 2021, nearly 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs. 4.3 million more did in December. These statistics are the latest in a trend many are calling The Great Resignation, which kicked off in April 2021, when nearly 4 million people left their positions – a record at the time. Also commonly referred to as The Great Reshuffle, The Great Realignment, The Big Quit and The Great Awakening, this massive disruption to the workforce left companies in many sectors of the economy shorthanded – and a bit confused.

A great deal of study focused on this surprising development in the ensuing months, providing insight into the factors that motivated people to leave their jobs and the challenges this movement poses for employers.

Drivers of the Great Resignation

There are many drivers that motivate people to leave their job, and the challenges and hardships brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic centered many of these concerns for workers. Dissatisfaction with working conditions and personal reassessment of career direction and lifestyle are at the core of many job-quitters’ decision, but to truly understand this trend, it’s important to take a more nuanced look at these concepts.

Stress and burnout

While the added stresses of the pandemic heightened burnout concerns, it isn’t a new concept. In May 2019 – nearly a year before COVID-19 swept across the planet – the World Health Organization recognized burnout as a workplace crisis. With that acknowledgement as a baseline, it’s easy to see how the rapid transition to remote work and the added stresses of living through a pandemic pushed many workers over the top.

40 percent of workers cited burnout as their primary reason for leaving a job according to a 2021 report from employee-wellbeing company Limeade. Teams with stressed-out managers are significantly more likely to feel burnout themselves. According to the same report, 58 percent of employees with burned-out managers are considering leaving their current role.

Reprioritization of Work/Life Balance

According to a survey report issued in June 2021 by Slack Technologies’ Future Forum, 76 percent of workers want more flexibility about where they work, and 93 percent seek greater flexibility in when they work. These preferences are indicative of workers reassessing their work/life balance. The additional time they spent at home in the early stages of the pandemic provided time for some to reflect on their priorities and develop a new concept of how they’d like to integrate their work and personal life. Many workers left their position in search of a new role that better fit their concept of how personal and professional time should complement each other.

Early Retirement

While much of the conjecture around The Great Resignation focused on workers leaving for new positions, that model doesn’t account for the millions who decided to retire over this period. Research by Goldman Sachs showed that of the then-record 4.3 million who left their jobs in August 2021, more than half – 2.5 million – went into retirement. Of those retirements, 1 million were people of “normal” retirement age, while the other 1.5 million were workers opting for an early retirement.

This large number of retirements reveals a less obvious problem businesses are experiencing during this employment upheaval: a loss of experienced employees and leaders who possess key institutional knowledge. This means that many employers not only need to find qualified new team members, but also hire and develop high-performing leaders to fill this void over the long term while finding ways to keep things moving in the short term.

Lack of Adequate Childcare

As the pandemic shut down daycares for long periods of time and pushed schools into remote learning, many working parents had no choice but to leave jobs that didn’t provide the flexibility they needed to care for children at home. Women perform majority of childcare tasks in the U.S., and this may be significant driver of their exit from the workforce since the onset of the pandemic. In fact, women have left their jobs at twice the rate men have over the course of this employment upheaval, essentially forced out by a lack of childcare options.

Schools across the U.S. shifted to remote learning for much of 2020 and 2021. Once schools started returning to in-person learning, local outbreaks forced clusters of students who had contact with infected individuals to quarantine at home for stretches of time or, in bigger outbreaks, entire schools to go virtual, often on short notice. Similar situations impacted parents with younger children who attend daycare.

Inspiration of the Movement

The movement itself has inspired people to change situations that make them unhappy. Seeing colleagues strike out in search of a work arrangement that better fits their lifestyle prompted many workers to reconsider their positions. When one employee leaves, the departure can be a signal to others that it might be the right time to explore new options as well. Even a single resignation can make a department or entire business a hot spot for turnover, a phenomenon some researchers call “turnover contagion.” It’s not hard to imagine to same happening when people see family, friends or neighbors make a move, though there is less research and reporting on that topic. 

Impact on Packaging Teams

While the Great Resignation has impacted business in all sectors of the economy, there are some unique factors impacting packaging teams. Supply chain disruptions, cost increases for materials and shipping, and other resource challenges place added stressors on packaging departments. These challenges are inflating COGS and putting pressure on packaging teams to identify new opportunities for cost savings.

Rapid turnover leaves packaging departments with insufficient resources to address high-priority projects, and outgoing team members take valuable institutional with them. The nature of many packaging projects limits opportunities for remote work, especially among more junior team members, who are often responsible for the hands-on tasks. The combination of these factors can increase the likelihood of burnout and compound a packaging department’s woes.

Overcoming Staffing Challenges

In the long term, packaging departments can overcome these challenges by meeting employees where they are. By listening to the specific needs of its workforce, a company can identify ways to refine its culture to align more closely with employees. Increasing flexibility and adding opportunities to work remotely, where possible, or options for remote/on-site hybrid work can go a long way toward matching the needs of a modern workforce and help packaging teams attract and retain top talent.

However, those long-term strategies likely won’t provide the immediate solutions companies need to counter this current workforce disruption. Fortunately, packaging teams with immediate needs can leverage flexible, fixed-duration resources to keep things on track in the meantime.
Bolstering an existing team with experienced packaging consultants can relieve staffing woes through the addition of seasoned experts to match the department’s unique needs. Highly qualified packaging consultants require little training to get up to speed, meaning they can hit the ground running to get projects back on track. This allows packaging departments to rightsize their workforce and address their priorities without long-term cost commitments.

A packaging consultancy can augment an existing packaging department with specific expertise for priorities such as cost optimization, sustainability, damage remediation, e-commerce distribution and more. This allows packaging teams to tackle sudden influxes of important projects or backlogs created by disruptions to supply chains and the workforce throughout the pandemic.

Partnering with a packaging consultancy also mitigates risk by providing strong project management oversight, training and technical support to ensure the resources provided meet the specific requirements of a project. If you need outside help to overcome the impact of The Great Resignation or any other staffing challenges, get in touch. Adept Group has experts in more than 60 specialized packaging disciplines and experience working with top brands across the CPG, food & beverage and life science industries.