How the Finance Industry Can Fight Back Against ‘The Great Resignation’

The Great Resignation

By Paddy O’Neill, Country Manager, UKI, Spendesk

Employers may feel like they’ve dealt with all the challenges the pandemic could throw their way, but now they’re facing another – the ‘great resignation’. Many employees across the UK are planning career moves, and the country has seen the highest rate of staff losses in over a decade.

The great resignation explained

Various reports illustrate the discontentment among UK workers, with burnout cited as a key driver. One report found that more than half of UK employees would consider quitting their jobs if hybrid working was abolished, highlighting the importance of flexibility in the post-pandemic workplace.

There has been an undeniable shift in the dynamics and expectations between employee and employer; some employees feel empowered to assess their options because they know they will likely find a new employer if their current one does not offer the level of flexibility they want. According to one global study, 69% of companies are facing a talent shortage,  and workers in this new ‘sellers market’ feel they can move on without fear of long-term unemployment, particularly in the technology sector and in skill-based ‘knowledge’ roles.

In particular, highly-skilled finance workers are showing signs of restlessness. According to a YouGov and Spendesk study conducted in the UK, France, and Germany, 42% of UK finance professionals are considering quitting within the year, and 13% of them already have concrete plans to do so.

These figures are even more striking among younger finance workers. Although they are less experienced, more than half (52%) of UK employees under the age of 35 who took part in the survey indicated they could resign. CFOs and business leaders must recognise this trend immediately, and work with young talent to ensure their needs are met. Otherwise, they will lose out on bright-eyed, committed staff to invest in and promote.

A major factor motivating those considering resignation was an overwhelming workload. One-fifth (20%) of those surveyed cited this as the main challenge holding them back at work, while a further 16% mentioned the lack of automation as the main issue. Clearly, companies need to implement tools that allow decentralised teams to control operations from both the office and at home, to meet employees’ needs for smoother processes and a less stressful work environment. If they do not find ways of motivating employees and valuing their in-demand skills, businesses risk losing their finance talent to other employers.

Tackle overwhelming workloads with digitisation

Most of us struggle with our workload from time to time, but this is becoming an increasing problem for finance professionals – with 23% of those surveyed saying their workload is overwhelming. While efforts are underway to make tasks and workflows more efficient or streamlined, thanks to increased digitisation in the workplace, many finance processes have yet to catch up; relying on admin-heavy, time-consuming tasks that become burdensome.

Tasks in need of digitisation include invoice management, with 15% of UK survey respondents citing it as the main cause of time loss, with another 17% highlighting reporting as a key pain point. These lost hours add up across finance teams and businesses to inflate workflows and deflate staff morale; a full quarter (25%) of UK respondents said they spend between one to three hours a week on receipt collection, invoice management, expense reports, or payment reconciliation. A further 10% said they spend up to six hours a week on manual tasks – almost a full working day lost to manual tasks every week.

Time consuming, repetitive manual work can be unfulfilling for those carrying it out regularly, and they may feel that these tasks prevent them from using their working day more effectively. Asked how they’d use the time saved through digitising manual tasks in more effective ways, survey respondents highlighted team development, learning and networking, and working as a strategic business partner as examples. Not only are these more fulfilling for employees, they’re exactly the kind of skills employers should want their staff to be working on to be as effective as possible.

Make tasks meaningful

Fulfilment means different things to different employees, and lack of fulfilment is a key driver in staff starting to think about whether they might find a more fulfilling role elsewhere. Feeling that the work they do is both valuable and valued can make all the difference to keeping talent in house.

The YouGov survey results indicated that a third of UK finance professionals felt they weren’t spending enough time on meaningful tasks. To compound this, the survey also highlighted that finance professionals don’t feel like they contribute to the success of their business or add value, with 40% of respondents saying they spent most of their time on tasks that clearly add little value.

Employees often derive a sense of identity from their work. And for some, feeling detached from the growth and success of the business may well be a reason to quit. Companies seeking to minimise the loss of young financial talent would therefore be well advised to bring them closer to the overall corporate strategy, and ensure they feel their voices are heard. It’s vital that business leaders and senior team members engage with employees to help them see the value in their work, and free up the time spent on tasks with little value to put their time and skills to better, more fulfilling use.

Keeping the talent pipeline flowing 

Interestingly, the survey shed light on a worrying trend – younger employees felt a lack of fulfilment, or that their time wasn’t spent adding value to a business, to a greater degree than their more experienced colleagues. Nearly half (45%) of UK workers under 35 said they spent less than half of their time on fulfilling work, and nearly one-third (28%) felt they wanted to work as more of a strategic business partner, rather than spend time on less fulfilling, routine, or manual tasks.

Employers should take note and empower their employees to take more ownership over business objectives and work at a more strategic level. Meeting the needs of younger staff head on is crucial, as they represent the future of any company. Businesses need to invest time and support in their younger, more junior staff in order to ensure they stick around long enough to be promoted and climb the ladder. Neglecting them so that they feel the need to leave at a formative career stage leaves this ‘talent pipeline’ less than secure.

The old maxim ‘choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life’ still has a lot to teach us. While not everyone ends up following their vocation, what everyone deserves from the workplace is fulfilment and manageable, engaging work. The insights from the YouGov and Spendesk survey highlight critical action points for employers if they want to retain their workforce and win the talent war. It’s clear that digitisation needs to increase to free up finance workers’ schedules in favour of more fulfilling tasks. Companies should therefore take the ‘great resignation’ as an opportunity to listen to their workers’ needs and make the most of the talents they offer. If they don’t, other employers definitely will.


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