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Employee departures create a vital need for adept communication in the pandemic

01 Jun, 2020 Internal communication, Issues and crises, Leadership and managerial communication

The insecurities and stresses of the Covid pandemic have triggered massive numbers of employees to reconsider the worth of their jobs – in terms of pay and also in terms of job satisfaction. Although initially called the ‘Great Resignation,’ the trend in 2020 and 2021 in particular was due workplace issues, according to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2021 Report. Employee departures create a vital need for adept communication in the pandemic.

Unfortunately, most employees are not engaged or are actively disengaged. The report identified a global employee engagement rate of only 20%. US and Canada engagement rates were higher, averaging 34%. That means 66%-80% of employees were disengaged.

Lost productivity from employee departures

And disengagement is very costly:

  • The lost productivity of not engaged and actively disengaged employees is equal to 18% of their annual salary.
  • For a company of 10,000 employees with an average salary of $50,000 each, disengagement costs US$60 million a year.
  • Replacing workers requires 50% to 200% of the employee’s annual salary. So, it costs $9,000 a year to keep each disengaged worker and between $25,000 and $100,000 to replace them.

These costs and loss of productivity highlight the need for adept communication in the pandemic.

Employees view work differently now

As Gallup consultants said in a 2021 article:

“The pandemic changed the way people work and how they view work. Many are reflecting on what a quality job feels like, and nearly half are willing to quit to find one. Reversing the tide in an organization requires managers who care, who engage, and who give workers a sense of purpose, inspiration and motivation to perform. Such managers give people reason to stay.”

Gallup’s findings were supported by the results of a 2022 Pew survey. (Image, right). Closely bunched at the top of the list of key reasons for US workers leaving their jobs in 2021 were low pay, no advancement opportunities, and feeling disrespected at work. Younger adults and those with lower incomes were more likely to quit a job in 2021.

Internal communication, including manager communication with their team members, plus employee recognition, are important ways to help employees feel engaged in their job. The role of professional communicators is vital in keeping employees positively engaged.

Ways to improve future workplace environment

A 2022 article from the US Institute for Public Relations noted three common themes emerging from studies in 2021 in examining the impact of future work:

  1. As more employees are desiring a flexible workplace, companies should listen and actively engage employees about their needs.
  2. Many employees believe remote work options improve productivity. Companies should invest in resources and tools to increase and improve collaboration.
  3. More CEOs are addressing employee wellbeing and trying to better align their employees to the organization’s purpose.

There is a vital need for adept communication in a pandemic, so professional communicators play a vital role in all of these three factors.

Employee reductions often produce a double whammy

Facing tighter business conditions in the Covid era, many employers have tightened up on their workforce numbers as a result. Most professional communicators are aware of the downsides of downsizing. The employees who leave are usually disgruntled, and those who remain are often unproductive as a result. Dealing with low staff morale can be a major issue for management and communicators. Unfortunately, research shows that many staff reduction programs aren’t successful. Companies speak of the need to reduce costs, but many find that cutting costs through layoffs is a fruitless strategy as the organization loses many good people arbitrarily, and over the next 2-3 years the costs often return to the previous level.

After layoffs have been implemented, many demoralized people left behind want to quit their job. This creates unforeseen labor shortages, which can reduce efficiency and increase stress and anxiety. Management then try to fill jobs – with a subsequent cost increase from recruitment and training of new staff.

A study by the University of Wisconsin reviewed two years worth of data and found a positive relationship across many industries between retrenchments and later voluntary departures. The researchers believed that retrenchments raise people’s awareness of external opportunities.

More retrenchments generally produced higher numbers of subsequent departures, but even small numbers of layoffs caused survivors to look elsewhere for jobs. The researchers found that laying off 1% of the workforce led to an amazing 31% increase in staff turnover on average. Thus the mere idea of downsizing sends employees to look for a new job somewhere else.

The positive news is that the proportion of departures was comparatively smaller in cases where employees perceived the employer to be fair and just, and where significant employee loyalty already existed. The lesson for PR pros is that good internal communication is needed not only to support employees during the pandemic times, but also to nurture those left behind after layoffs have been implemented, preferably before the layoffs occur. Otherwise, both employers and communicators get hit with the double whammy, which creates a very difficult communication climate.

Further reading

My article, “Employers need to communicate more during stressful times,” offers ways to address problems facing organizations because they need adept communication in the pandemic.

About Kim Harrison – author, editor and content curator

Kim Harrison, Founder and Principal of Cutting Edge PR, loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in his books available from

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