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Dear Cristin: What is the Great Resignation?
What the heck is this term that these folks keeps tossing around?
Welcome to “Dear Cristin.” Today, I'm answering the question "What is The Great Resignation?" as well as the unasked but equally relevant subtitle, "And what does it have to do with me?"
WHAT IS THE GREAT RESIGNATION?
Originally named "The Turnover Tsunami" by The Society of Human Resources Management in early 2021, the phenomenon was later called "The Great Resignation" by Texas A&M University professor Anthony Klotz, and I prefer that title. Maybe companies identify more with the unsettled feelings of a tsunami, but every worker I've spoken with who has either left or is looking to leave feels epicly great. These terms are what industry professionals are using to describe a wave of resignations around the world. People are jumping ship at their companies with and without new jobs. The original stats I heard were that 42% of the workforce was expected to shift employment during this time. Whether that number is accurate or high or low, we don't know yet, but it certainly feels true. We also don't really know when The Great Resignation will end, but it is definitely on now.
AND WHY NOW?
Why was this somewhat predictable on behalf of workforce experts and surveyors? Well, first and foremost, millions of people lost jobs in the COVID-19 pandemic and millions more saw their industries upended. 78 million Americans submitted unemployment claims during the pandemic as of this moment, which is equivalent to 47% of the US workforce. Folks left behind, often watching their colleagues tossed out without health insurance in a time of health crisis, were left to take on all the remaining work. They also often sat in endless Zoom meetings where their companies wrestled with decisions without their literal actual lives in mind. Many companies sacrificed employee survival in front of company survival. And lastly, caregivers and women in particular had child rearing, school, and the executive functioning of navigating a pandemic thrown in their laps on top of their work. Some companies rose to the occasion and some were disasters. Women left the workforce in substantial numbers, nearly 3 million in the United States alone. Lastly, because jobs were scarce, normal attrition did not occur. For the most part, people who would have normally come and gone did not go anywhere. They stayed put and waited it out. I equate this to all that awesome hair you do not lose when you're pregnant, and then when all that shit falls out at once, it sucks, amirite?
Now, people are leaving their jobs, and as I previously mentioned, many of them are doing so without other jobs. It's the contemporary equivalent of when Scarface quits his job in HALF BAKED, cursing everyone out over the loudspeaker, because he has had enough! This is my all time favorite quitting scene, and I have acted it out many times in my head. I'll link to it in the show notes for your viewing pleasure. The most updated stats I have seen is that nearly 4 milion people quit their jobs in April of 2021, a little less in May around 3.6 million, and then back up to 3.8 million in June.
WHY IS EVERYONE SCARFACE?
Before we go any further, I want to hit a few points that you're not going to normally get from a Forbes or executive coach article.
First, the United States has over 600K recorded COVID deaths, but typically in times of mass death, deaths cannot be accurately tracked. Too many people are dying at one time. What historians, scholars, and public health experts use instead is something called "The Excess Death" or "The Excess Mortality" Rate. A country typically has so many people die in any given year, and in times of crisis, it's often more accurate to view how many more people died than they normally would. In the case of the United States, the excess death rate is over one million people. Worldwide, the World Health Organization notes the excess death rate double recorded COVID deaths.
Now, these excess deaths could be additional COVID deaths, or it might be people who didn't go to the ER for their heart attack because of COVID, or there was a staffing shortage when you came in after your car accident. There are some preliminary studies that worldwide fires have made COVID infections worse in those communities. No matter the exact cause, the true number of deaths has been far higher.
Second, there is only one study that I know of that linked employment to those who died from COVID, and it found a large number of deaths in essential workers, which is not surprising by any stretch of the imagination. These are the areas where we are seeing shortages, absolutely. I also like to anecdotally ask people about what shortages they are seeing in their areas. I hear about dental assistants, life guards, sanitation workers, and healthcare workers of all kinds. I have not yet seen any studies that have tried to track people who left their professions because their fields became non-existent. Anecdotally, I know many theatre / entertainment / film / and hospitality workers that had to enter new fields because it was unknown how long until they could go back to work.
Third, more than 1.5 million children lost a caregiver to a COVID death worldwide. That is an absolutely wild and incomprehensible number. Children were 5 times more likely to lose a father than a mother, and more male caregivers died than female caregivers. How *this* number affects the workforce numbers, we don't know. We can conjecture that caregivers may have had to leave the workforce without additional support and without childcare options.
And lastly, number four, there are more than 209 million coronavirus cases worldwide. The United States currently has over 37 million. Many people, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, could not get a test so those numbers are likely far higher. 1 in 3 people infected with COVID are likely to become what have been named "long haulers," people who have Covid symptoms for longer than they are infectious. What sort of symptoms? Fatigue, cognitive impairment, difficulty breathing, headaches, difficulty exercising, depression, and sleep difficulty just to name a few. In addition, there are early studies that show that even those no longer experiencing symptoms, as in NOT long haulers, experience cognitive deficit, even if they were asymptomatic. I have seen no data on how many folks are currently unable to work due to COVID infections although it has been added as a disability by the US government.
To summarize: A lot of people have died, we only preliminarily know what those people did for work and really don't know at all how many people changed industries, many caregivers have died, and many people are disabled, perhaps permanently. This means we really don't have any ideas of how these interrelated facts affect the workforce, but we do know that people are angry as fuck. And they should be, in my opinion.
Most normal articles on "The Great Resignation" will talk about how workers like working remotely and are rebelling against a return to "work" - which is offensive since these people have been working the whole time. "Return to office" is more accurate. But perhaps organizations and reporters could stop treating workers like petulant children who "just don't wanna go back to work" and recognize that there is complex trauma, factors no one understands, unvaccinated children, and multiple levels of chronic illness in near everyone's life.
SO WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOU, AS A WORKER?
For you, my friend, it's nearly all awesome. You WANT to go back into the office? There are tons of companies looking for you. Want to stay out of the office while community spread is high in your area but definitely want to go back at some point? Why, companies are looking for you too! And do you know sure as fuck that you are never wearing hard pants again? Companies are courting you too, the remote worker.
In nearly every industry and at every level, people are resigning en masse, and companies are having to raise their pay (and lower their profits momentarily - don't worry, they'll pass it off to someone else) to get talent.
Two factors that are somewhat less awesome: 1) The market is moving fast. I have never seen it move so fast. I have clients go from applying to rocking out their new office in 3 weeks. THREE. WEEKS. The speed means that you really need to be applying to far more jobs than you normally would, and I am sorry about that. A caveat, this is not true in every industry. I have one very niche client who only had to apply to 9 to get 3 interviews and one offer and $40K raise. But that's very rare right now. My 3 week client applied to several hundred. Maybe 400? It was a lot. But this speed also means that there are more failed searches than I have ever seen in my life. If you missed a particularly lovely job's posting, save the link and check back. It might be here again before you know it.
And 2) pivoting is a little harder in this environment, and it's not easy to begin with. People are getting sooooo many applicants that it's hard for them to consider a pivoter. But don't be discouraged, and particularly, pay attention to those failed searches. A hiring manager or a committee with a failed search is more likely to do things differently next time which means looking at people they previously would not have.
But really and truly, the world is your oyster. Spend some time, I like to journal or talk to myself, thinking deeply on what you want your life to be like. Where do you want to live? What kind of work do you want to do? How much do you want to be paid? And then go for it. I'm happy to be the guide on the side helping you work through this.
SO WHAT DOES THAT MEAN FOR YOU, AS A PERSON WHO MANAGES OR EMPLOYS PEOPLE?
And now, an aside for those that manage others or employ others. Are you experiencing The Great Resignation from the other side? Are people fleeing the ship?
It might not feel great, but this is a wonderful time for you too. Never has there been a better time to figure out where you went wrong. Why are people leaving? Do you not pay enough? Is the wage not fair to the workload? Do you have some shitty managers that need some deep work or the door? Is your workplace toxic? Did you sacrifice your employees' well being for your profits?
I've talked to some CEO's who lost employees' lives due to their leadership vaccum, not their negligence, and it seems to have forever changed them. Are you one of those or are you just another jackass who still believes the organization is worth more than the people who wake up every day to do that organization's work? You can honor their decision and commit to the work.
Also please never have another bullshit townhall or pretend the survey said something else ever again.
In conclusion, don't be scared of "The Great Resignation." This is the kind of movement that can change the world, for the better, but only if we let it.
Good luck out there!
Originally, this was recorded as a podcast episode so the resources were listed in the show notes, rather than linked in the text. Here they are:
Anothony Klotz - https://blog.movingworlds.org/what-is-the-great-resignation/
78 million submitted UI claims - https://huntscanlon.com/new-statistics-reveal-the-u-s-lost-10-million-jobs-during-pandemic/
3 million women drop out of labor market - https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-crisis-3-million-women-labor-force/
Half Baked, Scarface quits -
Dept of Labor quit levels - https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.t04.htm
COVID deaths - https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/
WHO COVID excess death - https://www.who.int/data/stories/the-true-death-toll-of-covid-19-estimating-global-excess-mortality
Employment and COVID risk - https://www.advisory.com/daily-briefing/2021/02/10/covid-jobs
1.5 million children lose a caregiver - https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/more-15-million-children-lost-primary-or-secondary-caregiver-due-covid-19-pandemic
Cognitive dysfunction - https://www.thelancet.com/journals/eclinm/article/PIIS2589-5370%2821%2900324-2/fulltext