What is the “Great Resignation”?
The Great Resignation, also commonly deemed as the “Big Quit,” has hit the United States at its peak during November 2021 (at 4.53 million). The highest turnover rates ever in history were seen in mid-career workers, especially those working in healthcare and technology.
On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic and the accompanying periods of quarantine and remote working, many people decided to quit their jobs for good. Others preferred a more flexible work schedule. Still others have boarded the job-hopping train. Hourly wages were raised on average +4.3% for people who switched jobs during this time, compared to +3.2% for those who chose to stay in their current position.
Other fields that have seen major dips in numbers include retail, education, and tourism. The Great Resignation—still ongoing—is essentially a response to wage stagnation and mentally and/or physically taxing working conditions. In short, no worker wants to feel like a cog in a machine. The setbacks of many jobs outweigh the benefits such as a lucrative pay or unlimited paid days off. Rising inflation rates and hiccups to the global supply chain also drive the Great Resignation.
What are the Underlying Causes of the Great Resignation?
The COVID-19 pandemic gave many people time and space to re-evaluate their work, and work-life balance. From burnout to micromanagement, some people in essential services felt like being a “frog in a boiling pot” or “stuck in a pressure cooker” and realized their physical and mental health deteriorating about a year into the pandemic. Stress levels were high with the looming uncertainty and stability of jobs as service sectors were required to close or downsize. Many were required to work overtime on top of a labor shortage—which ultimately lead to their voluntary resignation.
Ripple effects of economy shock, including inflation of necessities and rising gas prices, have their own parallel battles in the global supply chain. To combat the pandemic’s effects, the US government has looked to a system of unemployment benefits and incentives to self-employ remotely. In response to this, there has been a growth of over 500,000 self-employed workers since the start of the pandemic, and a boom in remote and hybrid work models.
Other people have turned to career counseling and self-discovery to recalibrate their career path. With millions of courses and certifications available online, the options for upgrading one’s skillset is endless. Some wanted a better work-life balance to care for their children and loved ones. Others sought the potential room for advancement and upgraded their skills to match the demands of the ever-changing job market.
Great Resignation Statistics: By Age, Gender, US State
(Note: Statistics below are taken directly from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics)
By US Gender:
- Male → 67% plan to remain in their jobs in 2022, compared to 70% in 2021 (Qualtrics)
- Female → 1 in 3 thought about leaving the workforce entirely or downshifting in 2021 (McKinsey)
By US Age Cohort:
- Baby Boomers (born 1946 – 1964) → Almost 30 million left the job market and retired during the third quarter of 2020 (Pew Research Center)
- Generation X (born 1965 – 1980) → +38% resignation rates (Visier); however least likely to leave their job throughout the Great Resignation (Business Insider)
- Millennials (born 1981 – 1996) → 35% lost their jobs because of the pandemic in 2021; 27% have resigned (YPulse)
- Generation Z (born 1997 – 2012) → Over half of this generation plan to seek a new job within 2022 (Adobe)
By US State (Geographic Region, November 2021):
- Northeast (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania) → 670,000
- South (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma) → 1,898,000
- Midwest (Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas) → 999,000
- West (Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada, California, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii) → 960,000
And now, a closer look at some resignation numbers and statistics around the world:
- United States → 4,527,000 decrease (November 2021)
- Canada → 1,053,100 decrease (November 2021)
- Mexico → 3.9% to 3.7% decrease in unemployment rate (October 2021 – November 2021)
- United Kingdom → +0.30% discouraged workers (October 2021)
- Australia → 366,100 to 13,177,300 employment increase (November 2021)
- China → Tang Ping (“Lying Flat”) from an anti 996 movement (April 2021 – Present)
What’s Next After the Great Resignation
Every employee and employer seeks support, understanding, and lasting incentives to work. The digital spheres of training and communication are rapidly changing as software develops to become more human-centric and intuitive.
Human-computer interaction (HCI) systems are becoming more sophisticated and true-to-life—meetings over virtual reality may be just around the corner. The digital world is accessible with a few swipes on a glass screen.
Whether that’s leaving underpaid and oversaturated career fields or blazing a trail of self-employment, the Great Resignation affects us all differently. We’re in for a world of multi-channel onboarding processes and new ways to define work.
Will our interviews be vetted through an algorithm and our vocal intonations be analyzed by artificial intelligence in the future? Then, how would these hiring algorithms combat inherent biases and human error? How will we promote positive mental health at work?
With the Great Resignation statistics painting a rather bold picture for the future of work, it begs the question:
What does work truly mean to the individual?
Zhang, S. X., Chen, J., Afshar Jahanshahi, A., Alvarez-Risco, A., Dai, H., Li, J., & Patty-Tito, R. M. (2021). Succumbing to the COVID-19 Pandemic-Healthcare Workers Not Satisfied and Intend to Leave Their Jobs. International journal of mental health and addiction, 1–10. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11469-020-00418-6.