“Quitting a job doesn’t jump-start a dream because dreams take planning, purpose, and progress to succeed. That stuff has to happen before you quit your day job.”

— Jon Acuff

“I’ve sort of become the poster boy for quitting your job and following your dreams.”

— John Tesh

“Quitting a job can be like an exorcism where you cast out a demon. The demon is the foreign spirit who occupies you through your occupation.”

— Bryant McGill

Today, I close the door to my past, open the door to my future, take a deep breath, and step through a new life.”

— Unknown

“What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”

— Henry David Thoreau

“Resignation, perhaps the most stifling word in the language.”

— Caitlin Thomas

“There are no solutions: there are only trade-offs.”

— Thomas Sowell

You may have noticed that, lately, an awful lot of people are quitting their jobs. But this seems to happen even in fun times, aka pre-2020: As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) chart below shows, between 1.6 and  3.0 million have quit each month since 2000. In 2020 and subsequently, things really got rolling in the quit department: we are now experiencing around 4.4 million quits each month.

Job quits are generally interpreted as a measure of worker confidence in being able to find a better job. By this measure, high quit rates reflect high confidence. Times must be really good, yes?

Maybe not. My sense is that something much more fundamental than economic ups-and-downs is taking place.

Workers, work, and the workplace are changing hugely and permanently.

This is far from “normal” (whatever that used to be). It is massive. It is a job-quitting tsunami that will change everything forever. Or even longer. It has been termed “The Great Resignation”, possibly an understatement.

Lisa Rowan writing in Forbes sees the positive side of The Great Resignation: “Need A Career Change? How To Make The Great Resignation Work For You

“The great resignation is a mass exodus of people quitting their jobs now that the pandemic is waning. We know this is happening now because the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics measures how many people quit their jobs each month.”

“When the recession caused by the pandemic took place in February through April of 2020, the rate of people quitting their jobs dropped from about 2% to 1.6%. That quit rate returned to pre-pandemic levels over the course of summer and fall 2020, but this year, we’ve seen a notable increase in people quitting their jobs.”

“This August, the quit rate reached 2.9%—the highest the Bureau of Labor Statistics has ever recorded—when 4.3 million people quit their jobs.”

“Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M, coined the term ‘great resignation,’ and has attributed this increase in quitting to four things:

1. A backlog of people who didn’t quit their jobs during the pandemic, but are doing so now. This shows no sign of slowing down: A March 2021 survey from Microsoft found 40% of the global workforce has considered leaving their employer this year.

2. Worker burnout. More than half of American workers feel exhausted and unproductive at work, according to a March 2021 survey from job search platform Indeed.

3. ‘Pandemic epiphanies.’ The Covid-19 pandemic was a world-changing event that made people realize they want a career or lifestyle change.

4. Fear that remote work opportunities will end, and a desire to retain that flexibility.”

But, quitting, or resignation if you prefer, is only the first step in the change process. People are now moving from the past working world into the future working world – one that for many will be a wonderful, positive step. The old working world may well be dying. Good riddance maybe?

Great Resignation: Next up: Great Job Change

The Great Resignation? No. It is actually the Great Job Change

People who have become addicted to eating, shelter, vehicles, medical care, and other stuff that requires serious regular cash flow, quit a job only if they are planning and able to move to another, hopefully better, job. The new job can be a better employer but it can also be a move to self-employment or to starting one’s own business.

The next post, all going well, will address the self-employment and entrepreneurship options.

The Great Resignation is simply the first step for workers changing jobs. Very hard to seriously job hunt (or to become self-employed) if you are working at a full-time job. The tsunami tells us that many workers who are now non-workers are going to show up soon as new hires (or new self-employed).

Looking a bit deeper, the job changes are going to push strongly in the direction of “better”. Better for whom? The job changer of course.

This whole process is about millions of workers seeking better job situations than those they just left. What is “better” is an individual call but you can bet that it will lean toward remote and hybrid situations for employees and to freelance work and independent contracting for those who choose self-employment.

Others of course have seen this fundamental process as well. Josh Bersin, “… a global research analyst, public speaker, and advisor on the topics of corporate human resources, talent management, recruiting, leadership, technology, and the intersection between work and life”, explains his take in “From The Great Resignation To The Great Migration”:

“Much has been written about The Great Resignation, the trend for over 3.4% of the US workforce to leave their jobs every month. Yes, the trend is real: companies like Amazon are losing more than a third of their workers each year, forcing employers to ramp up hiring like we have never seen before. (The trending hashtag in TikTok is now #quitmyjob.)”

“But while we often blame the massive quit rate on the Pandemic, let me suggest that something else is going on. This is a massive and possibly irreversible trend: that of giving workers a new sense of mobility they’ve never had before.”

“Consider a few simple facts. Today more than 45% of employees now work remotely (25% full time), which means changing jobs is a simple as getting a new email address. Only 11% of companies offer formal career programs for employees, so in many cases, the only opportunity to grow is by leaving. And wages, benefits, and working conditions are all a ‘work in process.’ Today US companies spend 32% of their entire payroll on benefits and most are totally redesigning them to improve healthcare, flexibility, and education.”

“Our new Healthy Organization Research found that this is a big work in process. Today only 13% of companies survey employees to understand what they need and only 18% actively manage and optimize workloads to remove stress. So what’s going on?”

“This is not a Great Resignation, it’s a Great Migration. Employees are migrating from ‘crummy jobs’ to ‘better jobs’ and from ‘companies that don’t seem to care’ to ‘companies that really, really care.’ And for many workers this means moving to companies with opportunities for growth, promotion, and even a new industry. We call these companies ‘Irresistible Organizations,’ and our research found that about one in 7 are there today. So workers, many of whom have been freed from their desks and long commutes, are simply voting with their feet (their virtual feet.)”

“I don’t think this is going away. For years companies have been debating what to do about employee engagement and retention as if it’s a sideline problem for HR to worry about. Today this is a CEO-level issue and a new breed of leaders is going to learn that taking care of employees is the number one thing executives must do [emphasis added].”

“Consider the following facts. Today more than 90% of all jobs in the US (including even truck drivers) are service-centered jobs. In other words, they add value through their human touch, care, consideration, or ingenuity. This means that every company, regardless of your industry, is essentially in the people business.”

This last paragraph has what I think is a very valuable insight. Jobs in the U.S. are becoming dominated by service-centered work, due in no small part to the decades of offshoring traditional manufacturing and primary industry work. Service-centered means that people are becoming the business value focus, no longer products.

People have become most important? What great news!

Please excuse the minor sarcasm here but so many organizations seem to have missed this great and recent change. They can no longer treat their employees poorly – as production resources rather than as valuable people. Today, many more employees can walk away with increasing ease.

COVID was a major recent driver but technology has been working away quietly at this movement for decades. The internet and cell phone systems changed everything. Communication is no longer confined by location or even time-zones.

The nature of work is changing. Workers, newly freed, are changing, Workplaces are changing. Resignation is simply a worker-side step in the process of adapting to these fundamental, probably permanent, worker-demographic changes.

Happily, employers are getting wise to these changes very quickly. It’s not just about pay but more about personal freedom and about how each of us wants to work. A while back, few had any real choice. Take what the job market offered or go out into the risky world of self-employment.

Today, jobs are being redesigned around flexibility. Ditto for workplaces. Workers have already undergone huge changes and many if not most are not going back to the past. Employers are being forced to change to meet the dynamic requirements of the new worker.

Her Great Resignation is simply a first step in her personal Great Change

Work-life balance is now central and reachable for so many today. We can accommodate special home and family situations that were extremely difficult to juggle in past. We can reduce our commute time to zero. We can live away from cities and unattractive workplaces. We can take breaks when we need a break. Even time now to talk to the cat.

This is actually a great new working world for growing numbers of workers. Despite the continuing craziness in the world, our working is world is becoming far more favorable for many more workers.

Employers are adapting creatively and effectively

The current shortage of workers is forcing many employers to make changes that they would not have made otherwise. Workplaces are being redesigned to support engagement and communication activities, no longer just work and worker presence. Work itself is being reshaped by automation and technologies that offer much greater flexibility and capabilities.

The previous post looked at how managing remote workers is very different from managing in-office workers. With some many workers shifting to remote and hybrid work, as well as many shifting to reduced work schedules as a work-life balancing effort, managing itself is being forced to change dramatically.

The Harvard Business Review recently offered its view on what it imaginatively terms “the Big Quit”:

“The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit, is the ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs, from spring 2021 to the present, primarily in the United States. A record 4.3 million workers in America quit their jobs in August. Anthony Klotz coined this ongoing phenomenon “The Great Resignation.” Klotz is an organizational psychologist at Texas A&M University. In part, he says, the pandemic has made workers reevaluate what they are actually getting out of their jobs. The term was coined in late 2020 by Texas A&M University’s Anthony Klotz in response to two developments he said had collided like a perfect storm: growing quit rates and the burnout and rethinking of work-life balance that followed COVID.”

Rethinking of work-life balance – made possible by direct experiences during the long COVID unpleasantness – was greatly enabled by technology and lockdowns. Workers of all kinds and in huge numbers got a taste of what is now possible in terms of location-free and time-free work. They learned firsthand about the benefits – and struggles – of remote and hybrid work.

Happily, at least for workers, employers began to adjust and adapt constructively. Worker shortages definitely helped motivate them. More and more employers have reluctantly joined the Great Change movement. Worker, workplace, and employer Great Change is here to stay and spreading globally.

As always, the reality is more complex and highly interdependent

Stimulus payments and unemployment benefits played a major role in Great Resignation displacements. Organizations that require location-dependent and in-person interactions were hit hard by lockdowns and stay-home incentives. They require workplace presence and fixed time schedules to survive.

Wikipedia offered this view of the relatively inflexible needs of many such organizations:

“Causes. The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed workers to rethink their careers, work conditions, and long-term goals. As many workplaces attempted to bring their employees in-person, workers desired the freedom to work from home given the pandemic. With telecommuting also came schedule flexibility, which was the primary reason to look for a new job of the majority of those studied by Bankrate in August 2021. Additionally, many workers, particularly in younger cohorts, are seeking to gain a better work–life balance.”

“Restaurants and hotels, industries that require in-person interactions, have been hit the hardest by waves of resignations. COVID-19 stimulus payments and rises in unemployment benefits allow those who rely on low-wage jobs for survival to stay home, although places where unemployment benefits were rolled back did not see significant job creation as a result.”

“According to an Adobe study, the exodus is being driven by Millennials and Generation Z, who are more likely to be dissatisfied with their work. More than half of Gen Z reported planning to seek a new job within the next year.”

Extending this view a bit, it appears that even these kinds of employees will experience a Great Change to completely different kinds of work that accommodate work-life balance and remote work. Their former employers will have to face heavy, long-term recruiting, replacement, training, and turnover. The organizations themselves will change greatly as a result.

Rachel Wayne had a pretty hard-hitting post in Medium.com on the topic of why workers are quitting from her personal experience: “No One Wants to Work”: The Gaslighting of the Working Class”:

“Thanks to government handouts, no one wants to work.”

“This line has appeared on countless whiny signs posted at restaurants, bars, and other service-oriented businesses — often with a plea to ‘be patient with the workers that did show up.’”

“Both those who had worked in the service industry throughout the pandemic and those who left for health concerns were immediately angry. For years, they’d endured disproportionate rates of wage theft, high-risk jobs, and underpayment due to the U.S.’s bizarre tipping culture. Now, they were being gaslit with messages that they simply didn’t want to work — and this lie was being used to avoid paying living wages.”

“Well, that’s been the case. From the viral closing of a Chipotle location to the unprecedented jump in gig work , Americans are absolutely choosing to work — just not at low-paying jobs where they’re more likely to be underpaid, abused, and infected with COVID-19. It’s no surprise that restaurants have the least to offer aspiring workers. Yet restauranteurs are almost always the ones cited saying ‘no one wants to work.’ Almost every ‘we are short-staffed due to handouts’ sign has been posted at a restaurant, along with a handful of mom-and-pop shops.”

“The lack of self-awareness is quite astounding. In a society where it’s virtually impossible to thrive without a job if you don’t come from wealth, why would anyone not ‘want to work’? The extended unemployment benefits, which federally ended in September and long before that in many states, were barely enough to pay rent. So whether or not someone enjoys their job, they generally enjoy food and shelter.”

“Upon further investigation, the real complaint isn’t that ‘no one wants to work’ — it’s that ‘we can’t convince workers they have nothing else.’”

“I myself have become a business owner. I currently don’t have employees precisely because I can’t afford them — and I refuse to pay someone $7/hour to do anything for me. What type of labor would that even cover, beyond dusting my keyboard every hour?”

Bottom line:

Over 4 million workers are presently quitting their jobs each month – 50 million a year at this rate. This is not close to normal. It is a tsunami. COVID seems to have initiated this massive trend but it is continuing even as COVID and its kin begin to fade as concerns. Something far more fundamental is happening to the workforce, work, and the workplace. The workforce and its needs have changed hugely so that work and the workplace must change as well. Quickly.

Related Reading

Greg Rosalsky had a recent piece in NPR: “Why are so many Americans quitting their jobs?”:

“Goodbye. Farewell. Adios. Sayonara. Workers have been giving their bosses an earful of such words as of late. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.3 million Americans, or 2.9% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in August. That was a record-breaking month, piggybacking on previous record months. ‘The Great Resignation’ is real, and it can be seen across virtually all industries.”

“It’s common to see a surge in quitting when the job market is tight and there’s a cornucopia of open positions. But what’s happening now is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Economists and pollsters are still investigating what’s going on. Are generous government benefits encouraging people to quit? Maybe, but some evidence suggests not. Are people angling for a raise after decades of stagnant pay? Probably, yeah. The family pressures imposed by closed schools, the closing and reopening of businesses, the reshuffling of the population to different locations and industries, and the fear of the virus in face-to-face settings have all also almost certainly played a role. But the historic rise in quitting also seems to be about more than all of this.”

“In a new working paper, the UC Berkeley economist Ulrike Malmendier suggests there’s something existential behind the Great Resignation: The pandemic and the rise of remote work have changed the way we view our lives and the world.”

“As for the effects of the pandemic, Malmendier predicts that the legacy of forced teleworking, home schooling and other dramatic social and economic changes will continue to shape our choices long after the viral danger recedes. At the very least, there will certainly be many of us working new jobs.”

CNBC pointed out that many job changes are among the relatively mobile professional and business service workers: “Where the quits are”:

“The numbers also show a jobs market that’s becoming increasingly dynamic. About half of all quits this year have come from leisure and hospitality, an industry under intense pressure from the virus and the associated restrictions and fears that have limited dining and drinking out.”

“However, about a fifth of those quits also have come from professional and business services, according to DataTrek Research. With many of these moves coming from upper levels, including CEOs, the trend ‘is likely a positive sign for the labor market,’ DataTrek co-founder Jessica Rabe wrote in a recent report.”

“’The quits rate is traditionally a measure of economic confidence, as workers typically voluntarily leave their current roles after accepting a better offer,’ Rabe added. ‘The churn in this industry along with the overall high level of quits puts upward pressure on wages, helpful from a consumer spending standpoint amid strong inflationary headwinds.’”

“Indeed, wages have been in a sharp upswing lately, rising 4.9% year over year in October. That’s seen as growing evidence of an empowered workforce able to fetch higher pay. However, there could be a dark side, as the difficulty in finding workers might force business owners to turn more to automation and lock people out of those jobs.”

Danielle Vardara in a Medium.com article sees the Great Resignation as a “Great Opportunity” instead: “The Great Resignation is Your Great Opportunity”:

“According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 4 million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July. How can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?”

“Addressing the root causes of these staggering statistics starts with better understanding them. To explore exactly who has been driving this recent shift, my team and I conducted an in-depth analysis of more than 9 million employee records from more than 4,000 companies. This global dataset included employees from a wide variety of industries, functions, and levels of experience, and it revealed two key trends:”

1. Resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees. Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. While turnover is typically highest among younger employees, our study found that over the last year, resignations actually decreased for workers in the 20 to 25 age range (likely due to a combination of their greater financial uncertainty and reduced demand for entry-level workers). Interestingly, resignation rates also fell for those in the 60 to 70 age group, while employees in the 25 to 30 and 45+ age groups experienced slightly higher resignation rates than in 2020 (but not as significant an increase as that of the 30-45 group).”

“There are a few factors that can help to explain why the increase in resignations has been largely driven by these mid-level employees. First, it’s possible that the shift to remote work has led employers to feel that hiring people with little experience would be riskier than usual, since new employees won’t have the benefit of in-person training and guidance. This would create greater demand for mid-career employees, thus giving them greater leverage in securing new positions.”

“It’s also possible that many of these mid-level employees may have delayed transitioning out of their roles due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, meaning that the boost we’ve seen over the last several months could be the result of more than a year’s worth of pent-up resignations.”

“And of course, many of these workers may have simply reached a breaking point after months and months of high workloads, hiring freezes, and other pressures, causing them to rethink their work and life goals.”

2. Resignations are highest in the tech and health care industries. We also identified dramatic differences in turnover rates between companies in different industries. While resignations actually decreased slightly in industries such as manufacturing and finance, 3.6% more health care employees quit their jobs than in the previous year, and in tech, resignations increased by 4.5%. In general, we found that resignation rates were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout.”

Just ran across this gem by Tim Denning via Medium.com: “Harsh Reality: When You Leave a Job, Nobody Will Miss You”:

“Corporations have slowly rotted my soul. Six months ago I made the tough decision to quit my job — not only my job but my entire career.”

“Some of my colleagues helped me make the decision. They said things like ‘will be joining you soon.’ It made me feel like I wasn’t alone during this difficult time in my career, made worse by a global health crisis. The delusion I fell into is that my triumphant resignation was going to matter. That the company may listen to the shenanigans going on and do something about it. They did nothing. They didn’t even wish me all the best.”

“I thought my close colleagues wouldn’t be like that. They’re friends for life. At least they won’t abandon me. After I quit I thought they would call me every week or two to check in. The phone never rang. I made one desperate attempt to become relevant again. I sent texts to a few of them when a well-known leader got fired or a business bomb blew up inside the company. They still didn’t respond. I realized that my mocking of their (still) employer didn’t improve their careers. So they cut me off. Fair enough. My mistake. The same applies to you. When you quit a job you think people will miss you. That’s not what happens. Here’s why.”