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Why are so many people quitting?

October 16, 2021


The Great Resignation is real. We’re seeing a new mindset for how people think about, and value work.

Millions of people are quitting their jobs- to the tune of 4 million in July 2021 alone, with almost 11 million open jobs at end of July (Ian Cook for HBR, “Who is driving the Great Resignation?“), and in the past 6 months- resignations have accelerated.

Is this really surprising? We’ve had nearly two years of uncertainty, tragedy, and collective trauma with Covid. Now that we’re starting to come out of it, people are re-evaluating what they want. What they need. What matters. And guess what? It’s not working 12 hours a day for lousy pay. It’s not putting your life at risk to go sit in an office, socially distanced from your co-workers.

Think about the lowest wage segment- putting their lives at risk every day, in service industries, supply chain and health care- the jobs that could not be done virtually. Parents without other options for childcare simply had to pull out of the market, with schools closed and lack of childcare options. Burnout and exhaustion were a given. There’s a collective trauma- an element of PTSD at play. It’s not surprising these industries are now facing staffing shortages.

For those who were able to work virtually, many were doing the jobs of 1-3 roles, with downsizing, furloughs, and budget cuts over the past 18 months. This, while juggling home-schooling, childcare, family care, isolation, financial stress and more. It’s been a grueling time for those lucky enough to have the work.

As some companies mandate strict ‘back to office’ policies, there’s a real disconnect with employees who don’t want to give up the flexibility of working from home- better balancing their time, and skipping long commutes. They don’t want to go back to the way it was. And they don’t have to.

…”this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better.”

Derek Thompson for The Atlantic: The Great Resignation is Accelerating.

Derek Thompson talks about the job exodus as a new feeling of empowerment, in his Atlantic article, The Great Resignation Is Accelerating, saying “this level of quitting is really an expression of optimism that says, We can do better.” This is an awakening. Thompson calls it the “Great Reset.” For leaders and managers- it’s an opportunity to evolve and be competitive- or risk continued attrition.

So how do we attract and keep good people? Pay them fairly. Set reasonable expectations. Give them a reason to want to work for you. We all know minimum wage is not a living wage: don’t start there.

It matters more than ever that you’re running a company that listens, and truly cares about your people. Just saying you do isn’t enough. They know the difference.

It matters that you pay what your people are worth.

It matters that you are flexible. Some people simply don’t feel safe coming into the office yet. If you’re not flexible about this, know that others are, and you’re now competing with the entire country- not just your geographic area.

It matters that you make an effort to create paths for growth and advancement.

And more than ever, you need to think about your employees the way you do about your customers: Authenticity, good experience and brand values matter. How your leadership and actions demonstrate these values in every touchpoint with your customers- internal and external, matters. Your customers have a choice. You need to give them a reason to believe in you.


The Great Resignation Is Accelerating: Derek Thompson, The Atlantic

Who Is Driving the Great Resignation: Ian Cook, Harvard Business Review

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