While millions of workers around the world cling as best they can to jobs that have allowed them better than good to weather the economic crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, in the United States the figures of voluntary resignations are surpassing their historical record.
Almost 4 million workers, equivalent to 2.7% of the entire workforce, left their jobs last April: the highest figure since this registry began in 2000. The data seems to confirm the materialization of realignment in the labor market that the American academic Anthony Klotz dubbed “the Great Resignation.”
The Coronavirus pandemic hit employment in the United States with brutal force. In just 2 months, between February and April 2020, the number of unemployed rose from 5,717,000 to 23,109,000, from where a gradual decline began as governments, companies and workers found a way to adapt and to keep the economy going.
Despite the still partial reactivation of the economy, the unemployment rate stood at 5.8% last May, well below the 14.8% it reached in April 2020, but still above 3.5% in the one you were in before the Pandemic. Thus, the wave of resignations contrasts with the fact that in the United States there are still more than 9.3 million unemployed people, according to figures from the Labor Department for May.
The “Great Resignation” may also become a global phenomenon, judging by the results of a study commissioned by Microsoft that reveals that more than 40% of the global workforce is evaluating the possibility of changing employers this year.
But why are so many people leaving their jobs?: Postponed resignations, job burnout and epiphanies
Although the reasons why individual workers may decide to quit are innumerable, Anthony Klotz, who is an associate professor of management at the Mays School of Business at Texas A&M University, states that there were 4 specific factors that led him to anticipate this phenomenon.
The first of these is that many employees who had plans to leave their positions in 2020 chose to delay that decision. “Between 2015 and 2019, the number of resignations in the United States grew year over year, but that number dropped a lot in 2020, which makes sense given the uncertainty of the pandemic. These people stayed in their jobs, even though they wanted to leave it”, Klotz says.
It is estimated that in 2020 there were almost 6 million fewer resignations in the United States than expected. The expert explains that once vaccination progresses and the economy improves, it was to be expected that these people who had already decided to resign would finally take that step. “The latest statistics from the Department of Labor showing that there was a historical record of resignations in April leads me to believe that many of these people have already started to leave their jobs,” says Klotz.
The second factor that would drive this phenomenon is “job burnout”. “We know from a lot of research that when people feel burned out at work they are more likely to quit. And we have seen numerous stories of essential workers, but also many people working from home while trying to balance their family and their jobs, they are experiencing high levels of burnout. Right now there are more ‘burned out’ workers than there normally are”, says Klotz.
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This expert in organizational psychology assures that the only cure for this type of burnout is to take a good rest, so it is likely that those who do not have the option to do so will see resignation as a possible solution to their situation.
A third factor that would drive this wave of resignations, according to Klotz, is the revelations or epiphanies. He explains that sometimes people are happy with their work and something sudden happens that makes them think about leaving the position, such as not getting a promotion they were hoping for, the resignation of a colleague and the like.
“Now with the pandemic, almost all of us have suffered an impact that has made us revalue our lives, so many people have had these epiphanies: some realized that they want to spend more time with their family; others now feel that their work It is not as important as they thought or want to do their own business”, he explains. “I think there are a lot of people who are considering making a change in their lives, and that often means a turning point in their careers”, he adds.
The rise of remote work
The fourth factor behind the “Great Resignation” has to do with those people who during the pandemic adapted to working from home and now do not want to return to the office, although for Klotz it is a smaller percentage. “As human beings we have the fundamental need to enjoy autonomy. When you work remotely you can structure your day as you want and you have much more flexibility than in the office. Therefore, for many people who do not want to lose that freedom? Give up searching remote or hybrid employment may be an option”, says the expert.
Many workers do not want to give up the flexibility and autonomy that remote work offers
An international study commissioned by Microsoft reveals that 70% of employees want companies to maintain flexible remote work options and that, in fact, 45% of those who are working remotely have plans to move to a new location now that they can earn a living without going to the office.
And more and more companies are willing to offer that possibility to their employees. According to data provided by LinkedIn to BBC Mundo, advertisements offering remote jobs on that platform increased fivefold between May 2020 and May 2021.
The media and communication sector leads remote job offers (27%), followed by the software and information technology industry (22%). At the same time, nearly 25% of all job applications made between the end of April and May are for remote work positions.
Opportunities for the lowest paid
A fifth factor that would be driving this wave of resignations, according to many analysts, has to do with the situation of many of the lowest paid workers such as restaurant and hotel employees. According to figures from the Department of Labor, among those who left their jobs last April there were more than 740,000 people who came from leisure, hotels and restaurants. That figure is equivalent to 5.3% of all workers in that sector.
The abrupt reopening of the economy has created a great demand for these types of employees, which has forced companies to offer different types of incentives (including better salaries) to try to fill vacancies. “There is a lot of turnover in low-wage positions where people do not really have a career progression. If you find a job that offers you just a little more, changing it comes at no cost to you,” explained Julia Pollak, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, to The New York Times.
A shake up in the labor market
Klotz says that this whole picture implies a very complex situation for companies, although she emphasizes that they are already designed to deal with the demands of retaining their workers and finding new talent. “What makes this a unique challenge is the type of work arrangement (post-pandemic) because for most companies there is no one right answer in terms of how much flexibility they should give their employees.
“Hopefully many organizations are talking to their workers to understand what they want, but in the end companies will have to make a decision and say ‘this is what we are going to do’. And there will be some employees who will not be there happy, including -probably- several of the best”, he says. “This is like a kind of great reorganization: there will be companies that will want to return to face-to-face work completely, some will choose to do it completely remote and others will choose a hybrid format and workers will seek employment in those that offer the form of work that they want”, he adds.
Cassie Whitlock, Head of Human Resources for talent management platform BambooHR, believes that companies that want to force workers back into the office are the ones most in danger of losing them. “Employees have worked remotely for a year and it worked. They will want to know why they can’t keep doing it. If you are going to ask them to come back, you better have a convincing argument,” Whitlock warned Fast Company.
Klotz does not necessarily see anything wrong with some organizations wanting to return to the “normal” way of working before the pandemic, but he cautions that many will find that their employees want a “new normal.” “Going back to the office may be the right thing to do for their type of business, but they will probably risk losing employees who want that new normal. These companies will also miss out on opportunities in terms of competing for talent in the job market. since those that offer greater flexibility in terms of remote and hybrid work have more possibilities of recruiting workers globally”, he says.
Klotz believes that one of the long-term consequences of all these changes in the labor market will be that workers will have many more options in terms of different work-time arrangements: face-to-face, remote and hybrid. “It is possible to imagine that at different stages, you will be able to choose the formula that best suits you. Probably when you are 20 years old you will want to be in the office; at 30 years old, with a young family you will look for a hybrid model and later, you will choose work Thus, you will be able to forge this type of career, something that was really very difficult to do before the pandemic”, he concludes.