The Big Quit. The Great Resignation. Whatever term you use, more than four million Americans voluntarily left their jobs between April and November of 2021 – many of them going to new jobs, different situations, or – surprisingly – to nothing at all.1 With large numbers of workers slow to return to the labor market, employers across the board have been left scrambling to find qualified employees, or even bodies, to fill the vacancies and retain the employees they have. It poses the question: How can organizations survive – let alone thrive – when power shifts from employers to employees?

We explore forces behind The Big Quit, how businesses can retain employees, how this phenomenon may impact our labor market, and lastly – why outsourcing may be a smart response to labor shortages for many organizations.

The Big Quit: What’s Behind It

After the initial pandemic shutdown in spring of 2020, many workers were furloughed, laid off, or sent home to work, giving them an opportunity to reflect on their current situation – and many simply didn’t return to the labor market, creating a gap that’s hurting businesses. Pandemic relief packages provided an opportunity for some to start a new business, obtain certifications, or try something different. While some employers blame the packages for employees failing to return, the fact is that The Big Quit has continued after pandemic relief stopped. For many, time to re-evaluate career decisions allowed many American workers a chance to make a complete career change, shift priorities to stay home with children, or find a position with greater purpose.

The Big Quit: Who’s Left?

Karin Kimbrough is Stanford- and Harvard-educated with a Ph.D. from Oxford, and has worked for the Federal Reserve. Now as LinkedIn’s chief economist, she’s been studying her organization’s massive data to find out what’s behind the highest quit rate since the government began keeping track 20 years ago. In an interview with 60 Minutes,2 Kimbrough noted that millions of baby boomers are retiring early, while millions more in their teens and 20s are simply walking out. There are more women than men quitting.

Millions of Americans are still out of the workforce due to health and safety concerns, or ongoing COVID-related care responsibilities. Misty Heggeness, an economist at the U.S. Census Bureau, found that there are 1.4 million fewer mothers actively engaged with the labor force than those same months in 2019.3 She expressed concern at the growing gap between mothers and fathers in how they engage in the labor market – and was quoted as saying “If we’re really going to bring gender equality into the 21st century, we have to have a serious reckoning with established gender norms around care.”3 The belief is that many of these workers will return to work when care uncertainty and health concerns are no longer an issue. What remains to be seen is what they actually will do.

Kimbrough found that retail and hospitality sectors are particularly hard hit, with open jobs in hotels and restaurants at nearly 9%. Open jobs in health care are at more than 8%, over 6% of retail jobs are open, and 4.4% of all education positions are vacant. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data also shows health care, leisure and hospitality, and retail as the industries with the greatest gaps between labor demand and labor supply.3 For many of those working in these industries, the pay and lack of flexibility to work from home just aren’t worth it to employees to stay.

In every industry, some companies fared better than others in retaining employees. The initial pandemic shutdown led many employees to critique their employers, look at other opportunities, and decide to put themselves first. When America reopened, companies that allowed employees flexibility to continue working remotely fared better than others, but the larger number of companies now offering remote opportunities has also made it possible for employees to cast a wider net – and easier for them to leave their current role.

Pre-pandemic jobs were remote


Jobs are now remote

An analysis published in MIT Sloan Management Review examined turnover data from April to September 2021, 172 culture metrics at approximately 600 companies, and Glassdoor reviews from the past few years. The data showed that the biggest factor in predicting turnover – and 10 times more important than pay – was toxic work culture. Employees described this as a failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; disrespect for employees; unethical behavior; abusive managers; and a cutthroat environment.4 According to research, other leading predictors of turnover included failure to recognize employee performance, job insecurity and reorganization, high levels of innovation (companies that move too fast burn out employees), and poor response to COVID-19.

In addition to leaving for these reasons, some workers have simply decided to migrate to companies that offer greater flexibility, new opportunities or promotions their current employer can’t or won’t provide, great leadership, and a sense of purpose at work.1

The Big Backfire – What’s Next?

Interestingly enough, workers aren’t just leaving jobs – they’re leaving areas. LinkedIn data also shows geographic migration, with workers leaving big cities and moving to more affordable places.2 The Big Quit has changed the labor landscape by offering workers flexibility in their work hours and location by creating global access to jobs and opportunities. For many companies, it has also resulted in the addition of programs to balance inequities. To these positives, there is a flip side.

In an article for Inc.5 Michael Walters, founder and president of Studio503, pointed out that, with the shift of power from employers to employees, The Big Quit has created a huge price tag for employers in the form of:

  • Higher salaries and better benefits to retain current employees.
  • Expanded paid leave, personal days, and sabbaticals.
  • Increased minimum wage.

Add to these the obvious expense of replacing those who leave. According to Gallup, the cost to replace an employee ranges from one-half to two times their salary.6

So what other ramifications of the Big Quit did Walters explore?

  • Companies are searching for ways to maintain service for their customers without increasing costs.
  • In trying to be as efficient as possible, organizations are putting pressure on those who stay to pick up the slack.
  • Eventually, many companies will look to outsource or find alternative suppliers to avoid increases.
  • While automation, innovation, and artificial intelligence (AI) were already headed our way, the Big Quit has accelerated the transition.
  • As Walters sees it, no one is immune. Even IT, security, management, and creative roles will eventually be impacted.

And, as consumers, we’ve all seen the result passed on in the form of increased costs of goods and services.

As businesses try to retain good employees and analyze business functions to identify where they might find cost savings, outsourcing can be a smart response to this situation. (Don’t confuse outsourcing with offshoring, which happens when businesses send in-house jobs overseas. Both can save your company money, but they’re very different things.)7

How Business Process Outsourcing Can Benefit Your Business

Business process outsourcing (BPO) is the practice of subcontracting a range of business-related operations to external service providers who specialize in those fields. Examples of the types of functions that might be managed by a BPO are customer service/support, payroll, accounting, telemarketing, and data processing. Using a BPO to fulfill these needs allows leadership to better focus their human and capital resources on other core business functions.

There are numerous ways BPO can benefit your business, starting with fulfilling a role that you haven’t been able to fill – with qualified individuals – despite your best attempts to retain, find, or afford needed employees. In addition, BPO can help by:

  • Reducing other internal and overhead costs – because outsourcing is more affordable than hiring.
  • Tapping into a highly capable, skilled talent pool; top talent goes to larger companies offering better incentives.
  • Increasing your flexibility by providing quickly scalable teams – an efficient way to manage year-round fluctuations in staffing needs.
  • Helping you maintain steady growth while your team focuses on critical internal or proprietary tasks.
  • Fulfilling compliance requirements; using a company that is PCI Level 4 and HIPAA compliant can help your organization avoid issues with noncompliance and potential lawsuits.
  • Allowing for development of customized business solutions.
  • Providing exceptional customer service (when you outsource for customer service); allowing your internal team members to focus on tasks for greater efficiency and better ROI.
  • Increasing brand loyalty when you use specialized professionals or a highly trained customer service staff to deliver top experiences.8

Smarter, more efficient organizations today will retain their best employees to keep proprietary business functions and primary competitive advantages in-house, but find a trustworthy, well-chosen BPO partner they can rely on for other business functions to create cost savings, help ensure growth, and provide flexibility.

How Nelnet Business Process Outsourcing Can Help You

We believe our commitment to our associates not only differentiates us from competitors, but it should also give our clients confidence that we will take care of them and their customers. When COVID-19 hit with full force and effect in March 2020, we worked hard to protect the health and well-being of our most treasured assets, our associates, and did not lay off or furlough one single employee.

Our response to COVID-19 was thoughtful, fast, and effective – and it continued to evolve to put the needs of our associates, clients, and their customers first. We also moved swiftly to identify where we can help meet crucial needs. Among many achievements, a few that we’re particularly proud of include:

  • Successfully transitioning 2,500+ associates to work remotely – while maintaining service levels for our clients.
  • Deploying 400+ agents to support unemployment claims for state labor departments.
  • Implementing and executing call center support for a state agency in less than one week.

During this or any labor shortage, Nelnet Business Process Outsourcing can be counted on to provide quality, comprehensive services, including:

  • Contact Center
    • Multi-Channel Customer Service
    • Campaign Execution
    • Skip Tracing
    • Delinquency Prevention
  • Back-Office Processing
    • Data Processing
    • Application Processing and Verification
    • Payment Processing
    • Credit Dispute Processing
    • Mail Fulfillment
    • Intake, Imaging, and Workflow

About Nelnet Business Process Outsourcing

For more than 40 years, the foundation of Nelnet Business Process Outsourcing has been built on high-touch, white-labeled customer care to elevate consumers’ feelings about our clients, build trust, and drive lifetime value through positive and productive personal engagement. As the nation’s largest federal student loan servicer, our parent company serves more than 15.5 million borrowers participating in one of the most complex financial programs. We have proven capacity and success in serving diverse, highly regulated industries. We’ve done this through aligning with our clients’ goals and values, being their brand ambassadors, and fully integrating our technology, security systems, and compliance oversight into theirs for a safe, seamless, and satisfying customer experience.

Our company’s purpose is “We live to serve others.” We attract and retain associates who share that commitment by creating a positive work environment that prioritizes open and honest communication, transparency, career growth, personal safety, accessibility, inclusion, and diversity. The commitment to service is so ingrained in our culture, we measure our success by the satisfaction of those we serve – our clients and the people and communities who count on them and, by extension, Nelnet as the client’s customer-facing voice – to make their lives better. Over the past 40-plus years, we’ve continually reinvented ourselves to meet changing marketplace demands while always remaining true to our core values.

Provide Superior Customer Experiences

Create an Awesome Work Environment

Pursue Opportunities for Diversification and Growth

Communicate Openly and Honestly

Give Back to the Communities in Which We Live and Work

Nelnet’s Associates: Committed to Service

  • In 2020, 81% of the calls our associates handled were resolved on the first contact.
  • In our 2021 culture survey, which was conducted amidst the pandemic, 83% of our associates said they strongly identified with Nelnet’s purpose to serve.
  • Our typical associate has worked for Nelnet for 5.7 years – that’s 39% longer than the average U.S. worker’s tenure with their current employer.9

Nelnet won several workplace awards in 2021. Forbes recognized Nelnet as one of America’s Best Employers for Diversity, for Women, and as one of the best employers in Nebraska, a Top Workplace in Colorado by The Denver Post, and a Top Workplace in the Madison (WI) area.

We continually work to improve our training, processes, and systems to put our associates in the best position to provide a satisfactory service experience for our clients’ customers. In 2021, Nelnet’s corporate training and organizational development team was selected as a BEST Award winner by the Association for Talent Development in recognition for building enterprise-wide talent and strategically driving a talent development culture that delivers results.10 We were one of only 37 U.S. organizations to receive this award. And we did it during a worldwide pandemic.

For organizations that face challenges in today’s labor market with finding or affording qualified candidates for their open positions, consider the value of using a trusted BPO offering people who can elevate your customer experience and represent your brand well. For those organizations that need to create cost efficiencies in today’s economy, outsourcing customer service or other business processes while your organization focuses on your core capabilities, growth, or diversification may be a smart response. Finding a trusted partner with expertise, proven best practices, strong technical capabilities, and a commitment to serving clients and customers is key to your successful outsourcing experience.

To learn more about how Nelnet Business Process Outsourcing can help your business, visit our website.


Susie McCormick

Senior Corporate Communications Writer