Just like the Great Awakening or the Great Depression, the Great Resignation sounds seminal and epoch defining. Also known as the Big Quit, the global walkout is happening in response to wage stagnation, Covid-19, the search for meaning and a desire to work from bed amongst others.
Like all things ‘Great’, it conjures up an image of someone from a bygone era in a three piece suit, slamming doors and ripping up their contract shouting; ‘I’ve had enough of this. I quit’.
And quit people have. In September 2021, 4.4 million Americans handed in their resignation according to the US Bureau of Statistics. Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend Index found that 41 percent of more than 30,000 people in 31 countries surveyed are ‘likely to move’ in the coming year. In China, young people are resisting work pressures via the ‘Tang Ping’ or ‘lying flat’ movement, which protests their culture of overwork for little pay. In Ireland, 41 percent of people surveyed by Work Futures Lab stated their future ‘lies outside their current organisation’.
The reasons are manifold and cross sectoral. From people realising they hate their job more than they like subsidised breakfasts to bad pay, zero prospects to rearranging their priorities post lockdown. Interestingly, the highest rates of resignation in the US were not amongst low paid fast food restaurant and retail workers, rather amongst mid career employees, according to Ian Cook Human Resources.
After eighteen months at home in their jim jams and faced with one existential crisis after another, many workers began reassessing their life. Is work really all that important? What about my mental health, my family? They watched TED talks with successful people reminding them not to settle. They saw memes of the van Trapp family on a mountain in the Alps going ‘this is me quitting my job’ and thought; “I’m out of there”.
But where’s everyone going to work? Fulfilling jobs are great, but can everyone just down tools and be a sitcom writer or National Geographic photographer? Russell Brand said we can’t all work in soulless jobs, or have jobs ‘define who we are anymore’.
Surely, we can’t all walk away from gainful employment and ride across the Atacama Desert on a solar powered electric scooter. The internet would lead us to believe quitting the dead end job to find fulfilment is a god given right- but is it possible for almost 8 billion of us to have meaningful jobs a la celebrity empowerer? Who would bring the Deliveroo? Who would pick the almonds for the almond milk we’re drinking for our perfectly manicured #vanlife images?
The pandemic has opened doors for everyone to live more self reflectively, holistically and with more focus on well-being than long hours. None more so than Generation Z. Born between 1996 and 2010, their caveat is fulfilment and meaning according to research for a Gen Z spotlight report at Carson College of Business. They want yoga retreats in Marrakech and purpose built environmental friendly huts for digital nomads in Bali. Didn’t they only just enter the workforce? What happened to working factories, restaurant kitchens and picking grapes?
I know AI will take over the boring jobs in future, but for now, it appears, no one wants to do the dirty work. In Germany, 400,000 skilled workers are needed annually to keep the economy and industry going amidst an ageing workforce according to the Federal Labour Agency. In Ireland, the Skills and Labour Market Research Unit at Solas indicated a demand for skills in areas including IT, construction and transport. Pub doors across the country have signs up saying ‘help wanted’, while in the US restaurants are closing as staff walk out en masse.
2022 is coming round the corner and many more will be looking for a clean slate- find a new job, find meaning, give up cigarettes, alcohol, chocolate. The works. Finding meaning is good. But sometimes meaning doesn’t mean money.
Keeping expectations low will ensure that the Great Resignation will not become the Great Expectation and end up being the Great Disappointment.