Reversing the Great Resignation of 2021: Insights for Healthcare Leaders


Throughout the pandemic, front-line workers, especially healthcare workers, were praised around the globe for their relentless sacrifice and dedication during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Healthcare workers were celebrated and saluted with cheers and applause many nights in 2020 by cities across the globe, are now reporting exhaustion and concern for their safety in their own workplaces. These dynamics have created a perfect storm for an increase in resignations in the healthcare industry, amidst the rising demand for healthcare workers.

As more and more healthcare workers are quitting, the expectations and strain on the remaining staff builds. Thus, igniting the phenomenon we all know now as Great Resignation across healthcare, as well as many other industries. The Great Resignation of 2021 has been sweeping across the United States for the better half of the last year, with the healthcare industry being one of the hardest hit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Statistics, 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the workforce, quit their jobs in August 2021. This broke the previous record set all the way back in December 2000.

Nearly 1 in 5 healthcare workers, or 18%, have quit their jobs since February 2020. Among those who have kept their jobs in the healthcare field, 31% of them have considered leaving. And nearly 80% of healthcare workers’ places of work have been affected by the national worker shortage. 

U.S. health systems are paying 24 billion more a year for clinical labor than prior to the pandemic, while overtime hours worked is up by 52%. This is not a sustainable expense for any healthcare organization. 

Why are healthcare workers quitting?

From healthcare workers' perspectives, the main reasons why they are quitting their jobs in 2021 is that they are overworked, underpaid, and they feel that their workplaces are lacking the proper safety measures — all of which have been exasperated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

How to combat the Great Resignation in healthcare

There are many ways healthcare organizations can retain their employees. First, it should go without saying, but showing your staff appreciation and providing them support is a start. In UKG’s Embracing the Great Reset healthcare industry brief, “Provider organizations are experiencing the highest turnover of both senior nurses and new graduate nurses in many years and paying travel nursing agencies exorbitant costs to maintain staffing levels.” With burnout and fatigue already being an issue prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is important that healthcare organizations evolve their workplace culture to provide their staff with ideal scheduling patterns, increased flexibility, and engaging them in their decision-making in order to retain them. See the chart below from McKinsey & Company on the effectiveness of supporting healthcare professionals.  

Perception of effectiveness of support initiatives

In discussions with many healthcare leaders across the country, here are some concepts that all leaders should consider:

  1. What is the vision & mission of your organization, has it changed or morphed? Do all staff and managers understand how to translate this mission in their individual work process and setting? Do all of your employees know their purpose?
  2. How do you as a leader listen to your staff and managers?  Success in organizations is often built upon the “small details,” and as a leader do you see them, experience them, and listen for them?
  3. Be a decisive leader and be willing to change direction if and when needed.
  4. Communicate directly, visibly, and frequently with all employees.
  5. Be a leading digital organization with tools and solutions that support your leaders and employees to allow for more transparency, efficiency of work, control of information, and access to personal schedules, benefits, and organization information.
  6. Celebrate the successes, big or small, and do so by giving credit and recognition-- as success is a team sport.
  7. Leaders should work to remain calm, confident, reassuring, and optimistic.
  8. Leaders should demand excellence at every point of the organization and remove operational obstacles to getting there.

This time is like no other for healthcare. The future is bright and ready for innovation in all aspects.  Employees of the future are looking for organizations that are mission-driven and have purpose.  Employees desire a balance between home and work and are out seeking that balance.  We can mitigate this Great Resignation by executing with great leadership with the right tools.  



In uncertain times, it is your people who are the key to your organization’s success. While the COVID-19 pandemic will hopefully be a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence for us all, it is important that during any crisis healthcare organizations have the proper people, processes, and technology in place to not just stay afloat, but thrive.


Take a moment to read more about how your organization can retain healthcare professionals amid the Great Resignation of 2021.

Recruiting in the Next Era of Work.