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  • Nick Burgess

The Great Resignation - Why Are So Many People Quitting Their Jobs?

I was going to start with some mushy introduction around introspection and the life audit that was 2020, but I came across a stat in my research I had to start with: 95% of workers are considering changing jobs, and 92% are considering switching careers all together. That's fucking crazy. Think about that for a minute. If this number is even close to correct, that means essentially every company will experience almost total turnover. WHAT. Imagine that. It's like a toddler's birthday party: It's a game of musical chairs where everyone is involved, whether they like it or not.

A glass wall enclosed conference table with 18 chairs
Are conference rooms a thing of the past?

So what's fueling possibly the greatest employment migration in history? As I discussed in last week's article on emergency funds, 2020 was a period of "forced reevaluation." As employees the world over had a crippling amount of free time, only so much could be taken up by rolling your own sourdough starters. As time wore on, many began to get introspective, for better or worse. Some people took a look at their finances, some bought a pet, and others examined what really stood out to them as important. Turns out, many workers had their eyes on the "hustle" and "grind" lifestyle, when what they really wanted is:

  • More money

  • More flexibility

  • More happiness

And, to be honest, I can't blame them. This is the time of all times to begin demanding more from what you want in a job. With general worker shortages due to this "Great Resignation," workers looking for jobs have never had more leverage. Tina from Human Resources better get ready to earn that paycheck, because she's got some negotiations incoming.

Surprisingly, money isn't actually the first thing typically mentioned by those who are actively job seeking. The remote-first lifestyle was pioneered in 2020, and the current workforce proved without a doubt that they can keep a company surviving, and even thriving, Just Google "2020 record earnings" and see how many come up. And they're all different! Amazon, Citigroup, JPMorgan, The New York Times. These are just a few of the companies I dug up that reported record revenue last year, and all of that was accomplished while people had dogs sleeping under desks and babies on laps. We got it done, and done at an alarmingly productive rate. A CBS story from October of 2020 states that all of the FAANG stocks, along with Twitter, reported record revenues and seemingly recovered just fine from the pandemic. But still, some companies are adamant that they need to be in-person to operate. And that's a problem. Not just from the archaic viewpoint despite the overwhelming empirical evidence to the contrary, but also because their employees don't live there anymore.

Migration = Resignation?

Again, 2020 forced some serious reevaluation of pretty much every part of the human experience. In spending time with families and cranking out record profits from the dinner table, people quickly realized that they don't need to live in stupidly expensive places to work for companies that give them the big paychecks to kind of make up for the stupid expenses. According to U.P.S, over 8.9 million people have moved since March of 2020. When you cross-reference this data with reports put out by U-Haul, you can actually see where the moves are occurring. The general theme was mass migration from big city population centers into the suburbs.

The reasons are plenty: better schools, more space with yards and generally cheaper costs of living. These reasons, and migrants, become amplified when you begin to look at hub cities. California and New York lost the most workers during the pandemic, with New York City and San Francisco serving as some of the hardest hit. Again, there are extremely valid reasons for this. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, other factors include wanting to move closer to family, as well as the sky high effective tax rates in California and New York. Workers in the finance-heavy New York and tech-heavy San Francisco took their huge paychecks and ran for the hills. The Hampton's experienced large influxes due to millionaires and billionaires having their second (or third or fourth) homes there and wanting to escape dense population centers. Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona, also experienced population explosions due to the quick hop from San Fran and the (formerly) relatively lower cost of living.

So now that many big companies are calling their employees back to the office, at least in a hybrid model, their employees are left holding the bag. If you work for a San Francisco tech company and have moved to Phoenix, going into the office twice a week is going to be one bitch of a commute. And how do you combat this? Quit! And that's what's happening. Employees the world over are sick of this shit and it's time for a change. So that's how we get back to the number we started with: 95%.

Happiness: No Longer Just For The Medicated

Now this isn't to say that employers are the bad guys here. Far from it, because another concept that we're running into with this Great Resignation is: happiness. Here comes that other statistic I opened with: 92% of workers are considering switching careers. This strongly indicates that the forced introspection of the global worker didn't just stop with more quality time with a partner or a pet. Workers are now starting to take a look at the bigger picture. Is what they're doing fulfilling them? And if not, how can I make a change?

The first step is education. Online learning rates soared during the pandemic, and not just for children who were all of a sudden getting homeschooled. Google and LinkedIn saw booms in the number of courses attended and certifications gained during the pandemic. The founder and CEO of edX, Anant Agarwal, dropped some startling numbers:

“We saw a 15-fold, not 15%, a 15-fold increase in the number of new learners registering on edX during the month of April 2020. And in fact, for the year through November 2020, compared to the year through November 2019, the number of new registrations on edX went up by 161%.” - Anant Agarwal, CEO of edX

These enrollments, according to Agarwal, come from two main sources:

  1. Workers laid off during the pandemic, disproportionately from shift-work jobs

  2. Workers concerned about up-skilling and getting left behind

This is backed up across the board. Google saw explosions in the number of certifications gained in data analytics, project management and UX. LinkedIn Learning saw similar numbers, and saw a 46% increase in time spent learning by enterprise workers. People began seeing that their current career path wasn't for them, and they are doing something about it using resources that have been there all along.

So where does this leave us? Well, we have a massive swath of workers who were either laid off or their workload increased dramatically during the pandemic, who moved out of the expensive cities while they could and got to reevaluate what truly makes them happy. Now that vaccine rates are up and COVID cases are down, they're being told to come back to the office, antithetically to everything they've worked so hard to achieve in the past 16 months, so now we have a population of hard-working, over-achieving, up-skilled workers with something to prove and an ax to grind. And we wonder why people are quitting?

Are you an employee that's participating in The Great Resignation? I'd love to hear from you! Let me know in the comments below. And don't forget to sign up for my email list so you get these in your inbox as soon as they post. Have a great day!


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