The “Great Resignation”: when employees set the pace
Would be, according to economists, an odd thing to say in times crisis like, for instance, a worlwide pandemic. You would indeed expect people to privilege job stability in the face of such uncertainty. Yet almost 38 million American employees uttered these words in 2021.
In September, and then again in November, the number of American employees quitting their jobs exceeded 4.4 million. It represents nothing less than 3% of the American workforce quitting every month. And while resignations hit historic record numbers, US employers have more positions to fill than ever before. In March 2022, the number of available positions reached 11.5 million.
“The Great Resignation” has also hit social media. On TikTok, people are using hashtags like #QuitTok or #QuitMyJob, publicly announcing their decision to quit their jobs and then documenting their resignation process.
According to a global study carried out by Microsoft among 31 000 people in 31 countries, 43% of employees are somewhat or extremely likely to consider changing jobs in 2022 – with an increase of 3 percentage points from 2021. Yes, the gap between intention and action is often wide… but still.
Not surprisingly, Millenials and Gen Z (younger than 25 years old) are leading that trend with more than half considering changing employees in 2022 – up 3% since 2021. By comparison, only 35% of Gen X (born between 1965 and 1982) are considering the switch.
In France, the resignation rate increased by 20% between July 2019 and July 2021 (DARES, 2021). Although the American phenomenon is far ahead, employees’ growing desire to check if the grass is greener elsewhere is more than ever a tangible reality for companies across the globe.
Where is this wave of resignation coming from?
There is no single answer. For Anthony Klotz who coined the term “The Great Resignation”, it goes beyond wanting better wages or working conditions.
The pandemic has made us rethink our relationship to work. It’s no surprise. It’s been a strange year or two. We now reprioritize everything when it comes to work: family time, remote working, commuting or contributing somehow to the wellbeing of the world. As Klotz describes it:
“There’s now a greater ability for people to fit work into their lives, instead of having lives that squeeze into their work”
A job is no longer reduced to income. It must be worth an eight-hours-a-day commitment. Some companies have moved to four-day workweeks. Other companies like Airbnb are allowing employees to work from anywhere in the world. Perks like snacks or ping pong are not enough to retain talents anymore. And employees are leaving the jobs that don’t match their renewed priorities.
Meaning in the worth-it equation
People are searching for meaning at work. Meaning as in making sense – that is to say in having a job that guarantees a well-balanced life. But also meaning as in purpose – that is to say in holding a job that has a positive impact on society.
Although it sounds nice on paper, purpose is obviously not the the central reason to this resignation trend. Yet, it is safe to say that nowadays profit without purpose is increasingly called into question.
Research shows that people around the world trust their employers more than any other entity (government, media etc). And therefore, employees expect their companies to take a stand on important social and environmental issues. Our recent study reveals that 84% of French people think that their companies should contribute to impactful projects.
In France, out of more than 2 000 18-30 years old surveyed, 2 out of 3 declared that they would be willing to not apply for a job in a company that does not take environmental issues sufficiently into account. A position shared by young people whatever their socio-professional situation: students, employed or unemployed having previously worked. In addition, 7 out 10 would be willing to change jobs to take up one that is environmentally useful. Again, cold intention and actual refusal of a well-paid but less environmentally-friendly position don’t necessarily match. Yet, young people’s general mindset remains pretty clear.
You might have seen the recent video of some AgroParisTech graduates’ speech. AgroParisTech is a prestigious school that trains the agricultural engineers of tomorrow. On graduation day, 8 young graduates launched a call to desert “the path of destruction” set out for them:
“There are many of us who don’t want to pretend to be proud and deserving of graduating from a course that encourages us to participate in the ongoing social and ecological devastation”
They reject the “destructive” jobs they have been set out to do. Welcomed with applause, this call to flee continues to stir conversation on social media. Inspiring and promising for some, and moralizing for others, it is above all another reflection of younger generations’ ongoing questioning of what a job should do and mean.
In the same vein, the “You are not alone” non-profit association supports employees suffering from a dissonance between their work and their values to take the leap and join the ecological and social resistance. Since 2018, 30 000 French students have also signed a manifesto for an “Ecological Awakening” expressing their willingness to take their future into their own hands by placing environmental challenges at the heart of their everyday lives and work decisions.
Great Resignation in the United States or French students rejecting the path set out for them, there is a new worth-it equation when it comes to work. We are allowing ourselves to be pickier than ever – feeding a power shift in the job market.
Leading the market is no longer enough to convince, attract and retain. Companies now have to adapt to their talents’ great expectations and really walk the walk rather than just tick a box. Or risk being left behind.