"The Great Resignation" - Erin K. Anderson, Ph.D. | December 2021
In March 2021, Microsoft released a report from its study of more than 30,000 people across 31 countries indicating that over 40% of the global workforce was considering leaving their employment situations (Microsoft, 2021). Associate Professor of Management Anthony Klotz has labeled these findings as a sign of “The Great Resignation.”
Employment patterns changed significantly in early 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries around the globe modified or shut down business and commerce in response to mandated quarantines. While some jobs were done remotely or on the frontlines in person, others were eliminated as businesses closed. Now that businesses are reopening and the economy is expanding, many employees are thinking critically about the work they do and the lifestyles they want to lead (Hsu, 2021).
While unemployment rates remain higher than pre-COVID levels (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021), the U.S. Labor Department reported that 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021 (Hsu, 2021), and additional workers are considering leaving their jobs. Though it is unusual to see such a large rate of resignations as the country recovers from one of the worst recessions in U.S. history, there are several explanations for the choices employees are making.
Decisions to resign may have been on hold during the pandemic. People who had entertained the idea of leaving their jobs in early 2020 may have stayed for the sake of having a stable job during the economic upset of the last year and are now in a better position to seek a change of employment. For others, the primary reason appears to be a desire for jobs that provide more income, allow for greater flexibility, or offer a better work/life balance.
Frontline workers and workers who are women and members of racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to look for different jobs in the coming year (Bass, 2021). Employees who have held jobs in healthcare settings have faced long hours, understaffing, and a lack of necessary protective gear over the past 18 months. Women and minorities are also more likely to have held jobs considered “essential,” without options to work remotely (Robertson and Gebeloff, 2021). Such jobs include service and retail work (such as in grocery stores), childcare, and custodial and maintenance work. In addition to wanting to leave jobs that have exposed them to risks associated with COVID-19, these workers are seeking jobs with better pay and working conditions (Hsu, 2021).
The opportunity to work remotely and have more flexibility had given workers in certain industries greater control over a work/life balance and helped them realize the value of their desired lifestyles. The Microsoft study revealed that 73% of workers want more flexible remote work options in the future, not just during a global pandemic. This flexibility could allow workers to live where they want, devote the time they need to partners and family and feel more fulfilled in their lives outside the workplace.
For other workers, the last year has been a time of isolation, disconnection, and exhaustion. Gen Z employees are at particular risk of dissatisfaction with their employment situations and are ready to look for new jobs. Because they were the latest to join the workforce prior to or during the pandemic, they were less likely to build connections and networks that would make their workplaces collaborative and fulfilling and allow them to develop valuable new skills and abilities.
Many business leaders have fared well during the pandemic year. Now, however, they must reckon with the environment and expectations of the jobs that comprise their companies. They’ll have to consider not just what employees value in their work, but also what they value in their lives and how a job or workplace might complement this. Employers will benefit in the areas of innovation and growth if they listen to the needs of their employees and are willing to increase wages and make accommodations for current and potential workers.
In response to the findings of their survey, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says, “Employee expectations are changing, and we will need to define productivity much more broadly—inclusive of collaboration, learning, and wellbeing to drive career advancement for every worker, including frontline and knowledge workers, as well as for new graduates and those who are in the workforce today. All this needs to be done with flexibility in when, where, and how people work” (World Economic Forum, 2021).
Questions for Discussion
- How might the post-pandemic era shift the power employees have, making it more likely their workplace demands will be met?
- How long will the post-pandemic workplace changes last? What factors might influence reverting to pre-pandemic workplace conditions?
- Has your pandemic experience influenced what kind of working environment or experience you want? If so, how?
Bass, Dina. 2021. “Bosses Are Clueless That Workers Are Miserable and Looking to Leave.” Bloomberg, March 22, 2021.https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-22/bosses-are-clueless-that-workers-are-miserable-and-looking-to-leave
Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2021. “The Employment Situation – May 2021.” U.S. Department of Labor, June 4, 2021. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf
Fleming, Sean. 2021. Survey: “40% of employees are thinking of quitting their jobs.” World Economic Forum, June 2, 2021.dhttps://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/06/remote-workers-burnout-covid-microsoft-survey/
Hsu, Andrea. 2021. “As The Pandemic Recedes, Millions Of Workers Are Saying ‘I Quit’.” National Public Radio, June 24, 2021. https://www.npr.org/2021/06/24/1007914455/as-the-pandemic-recedes-millions-of-workers-are-saying-i-quit
Microsoft. 2021. “Microsoft released findings and considerations from one year of remote working Work Trend Index.” Microsoft News Center, March 22, 2021. https://news.microsoft.com/2021/03/22/microsoft-releases-findings-and-considerations-from-one-year-of-remote-work-in-work-trend-index/
Robertson, Campbell and Robert Gebeloff. 2021. “How Millions of Women Became the Most Essential Workers in America.” The New York Times, September 22, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/04/18/us/coronavirus-women-essential-workers.html