Responding to “The Great Resignation” 

The great resignation” is upon us. Though the end point of the pandemic continues to shift, there is no question that the last year and a half has impacted the landscape of work for countless people. A recent survey by Prudential Financial showed that a quarter of respondents were planning to look for a new job post-pandemic. This should inspire a rethinking of succession planning, including considering which jobs are likely to have turnover, using performance management and data to source and prepare internal candidates, and a forward-thinking mindset to retain employees as HigherEd shifts and changes.

Understanding Reasons for Turnover

The usual rates of burnout among faculty and staff at HigherEd institutions have been amplified in the past year and a half. Leadership jobs were more demanding than ever, requiring quick decision making, constant re-strategizing, shifts back and forth between on-campus and remote work, and the implementation of complicated protocols. As your institution looks to the next few years, it’s important to understand the reasons behind “the great resignation.” Some employees are leaving for better pay or have re-evaluated their priorities, deciding to pursue a passion or find a job that better fits their lifestyle. Some are unwilling to go back to in-person roles when things still seem uncertain and potentially unsafe. Others simply enjoyed working remotely, and now desire increased flexibility at work through a hybrid or fully remote schedule. Anticipating which employees might leave and keeping open lines of conversation can help your department prepare for hiring needs.

Performance Management as a Talent Pipeline

Succession planning and hiring for departures should start close to home, and the process should begin long before you have a vacancy to fill. Of course, institutions know they need a long notice period to find a new president or other senior leadership position, but your team can and should prepare in advance to fill other administrative roles as well. Don’t limit your thinking for new hires to external candidates, especially in the difficult hiring market that the great resignation has brought to employers.

An internal talent pipeline is an important way to identify potential leaders who are already on your campus. When hiring for lower-level roles, consider not just an employee’s capabilities for a current role, but also what they could bring to a potential career at your institution. Ensure that you also have a performance management system in place for current employees, one that offers plenty of opportunity for reviews, measures performance, and allows for documentation of goals. Equally important is a robust professional development plan that emphasizes growth and efficiently tracks progress.

With dynamic data analytics capabilities, your team can also track the success of D&I initiatives and work to promote more women and people of color into leadership roles in both faculty and staff positions. As Higher Education Today reports, more than half of HigherEd administrators are women, but the majority are in the lowest-level leadership positions. Gender bias also plays a role in faculty hiring, promotion, and tenure opportunities. Professional development and performance management systems can support your team in understanding what’s working and in creating growth programs that have a real impact.

Proactive Employee Retainment Efforts

The best planning for the great resignation might not be about hiring at all, but instead, about evaluating policies and workplace culture to increase employee longevity. Colleges and universities should prepare for the possibility that the workplace and the campus will never look quite like they did pre-pandemic. Students, faculty, and staff all expect more flexibility in their learning and teaching, and research shows that hybrid and flexible work policies are essential for retaining and attracting talent.


Make sure that your institution’s leadership are thinking critically about what jobs, events, and tasks can be performed remotely, rather than relying on the way your school has historically done things. Find creative ways to maintain campus culture even with remote work, like focusing on your shared values and mission or ensuring that student-facing roles and certain events remain in person. Be open to the possibility that hybrid work could even improve certain aspects of your institution—for instance, by allowing more diverse groups of people to perform jobs they might not have had access to before. Even if you can’t offer any remote work, consider offering flexibility in other ways, like flexible hours during school breaks. Implementing flexible policies where you can goes a long way towards showing employees that you want them to stay and that you care about reducing burnout.

Final Thoughts

“The great resignation” has begun and it may already be impacting your institution. There are ways to reduce its impact, however, by preparing to fill top positions and by rethinking your campus culture to be more attractive to current employees and candidates. One lesson all employers should take away is that they need to care about their employees. Many people had eye-opening experiences in 2020 and 2021, and are asking for more fulfillment and more flexibility from the jobs. Your institution can answer the call to action and be prepared for whatever this year might throw at you.