The pandemic has called the question about our work—about how it fits into what we want in our lives. It’s made millions of us stop, look around, and wonder.
Enter “the Great Resignation.”
In September, 4.4 million Americans (about 2.9% of the national workforce) left their jobs, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. In August, it was 4.3 million. About 4 million in July. (In September 2020, the number was about 3.3 million.) According to research from Visier, the annualized resignation rate is about 25 percent.
According to a Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 workers around the world, 41 percent of workers were considering quitting their jobs or changing their profession this year.
“When we come into contact with life-threatening events, we tend to reflect on death and consider whether we are happy with our lives or whether we would like to make changes to them. The pandemic forced (people) to take stock of their lives and gave them the opportunity to reimagine it.” –Anthony Klotz, the professor at Texas A&M University who coined the phrase “Great Resignation”
Why Are People Resigning?
The Great Resignation isn’t a monolith. The vastness of this phenomenon obscures the complex and intensely personal set of factors driving it among individuals.
There are often several reasons people leave a job—a complex interplay of factors. Some common reasons:
- Dissatisfaction with manager
- Dissatisfaction with pay
- Insufficient recognition (according to the Gallup Organization, 65 percent of people don’t feel appreciated at work)
- Lack of respect or dignity at work
- Poor working conditions
- Lack of social connection with colleagues
- Feeling like a small cog in a large machine
- Lack of meaning at work
- Disconnect with personal values
During this pandemic, many resignations have been driven by fear of catching Covid-19 or by frustration with organizations not taking worker safety seriously enough—and by staffing shortages that have placed extra burdens on workers over a long and stressful period.
For some, the pandemic has stoked resentment about lack of care and support, about poor treatment, and about dangerous working conditions.
For others, it has reignited curiosity about other options or motivation for a dream job.
Take the Traps Test
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Varying Resignation Rates
Within the larger context of the Great Resignation writ large, resignations have varied greatly by industry and sector. In August 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 65 percent of the total resignations came from food and hospitality. Indeed, 6.8% of workers in the food service sector quit in just that month—the highest of any sector. (Service industries tend to have higher resignation rates.)
The health care sector has also seen high resignations rates (not surprising due to the strain these workers have been under for so long during the pandemic). Resignations also increased in the tech sector but decreased in the manufacturing and finance sectors.
According to a global analysis of more than nine million employee records from more than 4,000 companies:
- “Resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees” (between age 30 and 45), “with an average increase of more than 20 percent between 2020 and 2021.”
- Resignations decreased for workers aged 20 to 25 and for workers in the 60 to 70 age group
We should keep in mind the differences between people who were forced to quit due to the need to take care of children while schools were closed, or due to terrible or dangerous working conditions, versus those who chose to quit so they could pursue something better, such as higher pay, an ability to keep working remotely, a dream job, a new venture, an early retirement, or a career break. According to a July survey by Digital.com, 32 percent of working Americans who quit their jobs started a new venture.
The situation is in flux. This history is still being written. For some, the Great Resignation is a leap of faith toward something better (or the hope of it). For others, it’s a flight from an untenable situation.
Either way, the question has been called. How will we respond? How will we navigate our way through this time of upheaval and possibility?
A Great Re-Evaluation
In the end, it may be more than a Great Resignation. It’s also a Great Re-Evaluation for many of us.
Of course, such a re-evaluation doesn’t have to lead to quitting your job. It can mean bringing more of you to your current work (and family, friendships, and community engagements)—something we should have been doing all along.
It seems that reverting to old habits and patterns would be a cop-out at a time so rife with change and possibility. What kind of life and work do we want to create? And what’s stopping us from doing so?
What’s your take on the great re-evaluation? How are you seeing things?
Personal Values Exercise
Complete this exercise to identify your personal values. It will help you develop self-awareness, including clarity about what’s most important to you in life and work, and serve as a safe harbor for you to return to when things are tough.
Gregg Vanourek is a writer, teacher, speaker, and coach on leadership and personal development. He is co-author of three books, including LIFE Entrepreneurs: Ordinary People Creating Extraordinary Lives (a manifesto for integrating our life and work with purpose and passion) and Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards). Take Gregg’s Traps Test (Common Traps of Living), do his Personal Values Exercise, check out his Best Articles, get his newsletter, or watch his TEDx talk. If you found value in this article, please forward it to a friend. Every little bit helps!