The Great Resignation: Why Do Many Quit Their Jobs During COVID-19?
When the pandemic started, it dragged many surprises along with it. Still, the most unexpected turn of events was probably people quitting their jobs en masse while the world was going through a global economic crisis with unprecedented inflation rates, leading to “The Great Resignation”.
The term “Great Resignation” was pinned by the Texan management professor Anthony Klotz last May, when he predicted that with the world recovering from the aftershock of the pandemic, workers might not be so thrilled to go back to the way things were before.
With many people forced to work from home due to lockdowns, they could finally spend more quality time with their families and less time under stress. Nevertheless, few economists took Klotz’s foresight seriously; after all, during the early months of the pandemic, millions of workers were laid off across the globe, while others had their wages cut significantly, and hiring freeze took hold of most industries.
This grim state was expected to continue for the year, but what economists failed to see was that many people over 50 did not feel like going back to a job where they could get infected with a virus disproportionately killing people of their age group. Armed with stimulus checks and tax refunds, baby boomers decided it was time for early retirement. This unforeseen escalation created enough job openings to make people feel comfortable quitting, especially mid-career employees in the tech and healthcare industries.
Last April, more people quit their jobs in the United States than any other time in recorded history, and the numbers have only been growing since, stopping at 210,000 new job openings for November alone. In a recent study run by the job search site Joblist on 26,000 employees, 22% of the respondents recorded quitting their previous jobs, with 73% thinking of leaving their current positions.
This phenomenon of mass resignation is not limited to the U.S., and other developed countries face a similar problem. In Germany, 400,000 new skilled workers will be needed each year to fill the gap the last two years created in the economy. As for less developed regions of the world, the reality is even bleaker. For every six people, one lost his job in Latin America, Vietnamese workers are leaving big cities for their ancestral villages, and Chinese youth are losing interest in working for the country’s low-wage manufacturing tycoons.
Other than the early-retirement factor mentioned above, the great resignation owes its existence to workers getting their long-awaited chance of turning the imbalance in the labor market’s power dynamics to their advantage. A commonly repeated complaint amongst resigned workers is companies not providing work environments that support mental health. But mid-career tech and healthcare workers quitting their jobs for better opportunities is probably the great exodus’ main culprit. Meaning that most people quitting their jobs do so because they can land better ones.
“It’s not just quitting for the sake of quitting; it’s quitting to find better employment.”
- Gregory Daco, chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics.
No matter how prideful of a period the great resignation might be for the average laborer living paycheck to paycheck, people will start to run low on finances and will have to meet employers in the middle eventually. Yet this process might take a while, thanks to the luxuries provided by advanced economies, unlike low-wage and less privileged workers who will not be able to pick and choose who they work for when to work, and from where.
In the meantime, experts predict that the current high levels of resignation to continue into 2022. We might even see work organizations move away from one-fits-all structures and adopt more fluid and individual-based work settings.