January 17


Leaders, Don’t Blame COVID-19 for ‘The Great Resignation’​

Has the Great Resignation boom reached Singapore’s shores?

According to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Index, 49% of the local workforce would consider leaving their employers this year.

This comes as no surprise with news of over 1,500 healthcare workers resigning in the first half of 2021, compared to the annual 2000 pre-pandemic.

An Oracle survey found nearly seven out of ten Singaporeans felt this year to be more stressful at work and Kisi’s Global Work-Life Balance Index ranked Singapore as the second most overworked city in the world in 2021, just behind Hong Kong.  

While organisations may blame the pandemic for it, I don’t think leaders understand that COVID may have only fanned the flames that were already existing before the pandemic.

Employee engagement levels have been dipping even before the pandemic in Singapore. Statistics have already been painting a bleak picture of the way employees were disengaged at the workplace way before COVID even became a thing.

COVID just made it worse.

According to Dr Wu Pei Chuan, from NUS Business School, job satisfaction has been low at less than 40 per cent since 2017.

There are other studies that paint the same picture, but the question is, are organisations paying attention to the data that’s out there?

The pandemic has merely given employees more time to analyse what’s really important to them. Is it merely about the money? Or is there more to life than paying the bills?

One of my clients, a HR leader mentioned to me that a top performing employee shocked her when he tendered his resignation. When asked, “Why are you resigning, I thought you were doing well here?”

He merely responded, “Actually I’ve been thinking about resigning since over a year ago. Now just feels like the right time to do it after giving this enough thought”

I believe that many employees are in the same position.

They’ve been disengaged for a while now, and with the extra stress, burnout, loneliness and many other issues have only sharpened the fault lines within organisations and how leaders are managing their teams.

Simply put – The Great Resignation is not a COVID induced phenomenon.

A recent article in CNA mentioned that workplace bullying is pretty common in Singapore.

According to Associate Professor Vadera from SMU (Organisational Behaviour and Human Resources department), many hold on to the misconception that “Boss is always right”.

“In a lot of Asian cultures, people have been socialised into thinking that the boss is always right and so, they don’t want to rattle the status quo by being disrespectful of authority in general,” said Assoc Prof Vadera.

Employees see no point in standing up against their bosses because they don’t experience psychological safety and inherently believe that speaking up will only make things worse.

Which is why the modern workforce (that is forming a large majority of Millennials) are taking back control by resigning. The compensation of wages and other material gains is not worth the sacrifice of other aspects of life. A job is merely an exchange of value, but it is no longer measured purely in dollars and cents anymore.

“Faced with the option of diving into the uncertainty of quitting one’s job, or the certainty of drowning in one’s work, many are choosing to jump” – Ong Kah Jing

While there hasn’t been any study published in Asia that blatantly says Millennials & Gen Z’s are the ones fronting The Great Resignation, it’s not hard to connect two and two together.

In a 2021 Singapore’s 100 Leading Graduate Employers survey on 13,989 undergraduates and recent graduates, 61.5 per cent of its respondents believed that personal fulfilment is more important than a large pay slip. What is more telling is that 72.7 per cent of respondents are prepared to accept salary cuts in the course of their career in exchange for a better workplace.

So..What can Leaders do?

The first thing is to realise that employee engagement is not HR’s responsibility. It is yours. Just because HR is tasked with the responsibility of gathering the data around employee engagement, doesn’t mean that they are the ones who need to keep your team members engaged. Leaders need to step up and focus on how they can keep their team members engaged.

Secondly, read up on what really engages the modern workforce today. What do Millennials and Gen Zs look for in the workplace? Even before the pandemic, there was a crisis of worker dissatisfaction, with Millennials – the generation poised to make up the majority of our workforce – viewing business as out of step with their priorities. What can leaders do within their own capacity to keep them engaged? Have a pulse on the ground of what motivates and engages the young generation. Read this article to understand the basics

With that said, there are many ways you can appreciate your team members of all generations by understanding the concept of “Love Languages”. According to Gary Chapman, there are 5 different ways you can show your appreciation. I’ll share 3 simple ways you can do this.

  1. Gifts

If you are working from home, surprise your team members with some deliveries. Whether it is food, toys for their children, or even vouchers, everyone loves a gift. And it need not be expensive. In fact, check in with your HRBP to see if there is a budget that you can spend to keep your team members engaged – by appreciating them. Don’t do this for Christmas – because everyone will just think you’ve jumped on the bandwagon. Do it when they are least expecting it, and you’ll really make the most of this initiative.

2. Words of Affirmation

Want to take it up a notch? Write them a handwritten note to appreciate their hard work together with the gift. Make sure you mention a specific example where they really helped you out or added value to a project that you are appreciative of. A simple ‘thank you’ on your gift + card is good, but pointing out a specific incident and writing it out always makes the gift and the note even more authentic & special.

3. Quality Time

Since corporate Dinner & Dances are not going to be happening (physically) anytime soon, organise some activities that everyone in your team will enjoy. Whether it is going to the southern islands on a yacht, simply to chill for a day, plan out a picnic or go on a cycling trip around Singapore. Given the restrictions with eating out, you will need to think creatively and out-of-the-box to spend time with your team members. The key is to allocate enough time to bond and make sure that you don’t dwell on any work topics while bonding.

Want to take it up a notch further? Buy some conversation cards that contain deep questions to understand one another better. Asking deep questions help individuals open up and share more of themselves. We usually don’t get the right time or opportunity to do this, so a session that is focused on bonding can go a long way to understanding your colleagues better.


If at this point, you’re thinking to yourself, “But I have no time”, it’s time to take a step back and really analyse this properly.

“No time” is just another way of saying,

“This isn’t a top priority for me right now”

I get it. We are all starved for time. But really think about it… if your team members start leaving one by one, how much time would you have to fork out to recruit, re-train, and retain your team members. You stand to lose more time, by not keeping the people in your team engaged. Don’t make the fatal mistake of trying to dig the well when you’re thirsty. It’s usually too late by then.


Honestly, this isn’t really an issue. Don’t overthink it. The fact that you are doing this is already a positive first step. It’s the thought that counts, and from an employee’s POV, simply knowing that your leaders cares about you and the work you do, is more than enough to strengthen the engagement levels with your team members.

If you’re struggling with ideas…It doesn’t take much work – a simple Google search actually gives you a lot of options to consider. It is up to you to execute on the ideas and implement them. That’s when you see results. If you haven’t done any of the ideas I’ve shared above in the last three months, it’s time to get started. It’s the small things that make the big difference

Want more ideas? Do this simple scorecard to see if your employees are engaged in the workplace and get my free report full of actionable ideas you can implement immediately for lasting results


We may be just seeing the initial signs of The Great Resignation creeping up in Singapore. Or maybe it’s already happening in full swing, depending on the industry you are in. But herein lies an opportunity to do what’s needed to keep the employees in our team engaged.

Don’t blame it on COVID.

Don’t blame it on Millennials.

Don’t blame it on the hybrid workplace situation we are in today.

Things were already bad before COVID.

COVID just made it worse, and highlighted the fault lines. If you want to keep the great resignation at bay, start off by ditching the old-school practices. Consider current indicators that workers are quitting rather than giving up the ability to work from home. Everybody, up and down the hierarchy, is both empowered and willing to take responsibility for what they do. Whether the outcomes are good or bad, those who take risks own the consequences.

Whatever the case, the important thing you need to do is to make sure you allocate some time and effort this week to check in with your team members and appreciate them for the work they are doing. Everyone loves a surprise.

Want More Easy Ideas to Engage your Team?

  1. Get an autographed copy of my book my DM-ing me. It’s full of implementable ideas on how you can recruit, reward and retain the members in your team.

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2. Do the scorecard and find out how engaged your team members really are by answering 35 Yes/No questions based on the 7 Fundamentals I’ve written about in my book. The scorecard comes with a customised report full of actionable ideas to better engage with your team members (especially Millennials)


Then, share the report with your HR if there are any ideas that they can help you with implementing.

3. Want to learn more about The Great Resignation? Watch this 1 hour video as I dive into the idea of The Great Resignation in Singapore with other thought leaders


One Last thing…

P.S – I’ve started my newsletter “CLOSE THE GENERATIONAL GAP” where I dive deep into how we can recruit, retain, market and brand organisations through innovative ways in order to appeal to the Millennial Generation that will form 75% of the global workforce by 2025.

Please subscribe if you would like to get a notification for all my future articles in LinkedIn that will contain valuable tips, tricks & techniques around all things Millennial. `


Leadership, Retention, The 5G Leader, The Great Resignation

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