The Great Resignation in Perspective: It May Not Be That Great

Business woman sending resignation letter and packing Stuff Resign Depress or carrying business cardboard box by desk in office. Change of job or fired from company.

We have been hearing about the Great Resignation for the better part of six or seven months now. Since the summer of 2021, economists and employment experts alike have been talking about the millions of people who left their jobs in that year. In November 2021 alone, that number was approximately 4.5 million. But as big a deal as that seems to be, the Great Resignation needs a little perspective.

Author, Boston University professor, and Fast Company contributor Jay L. Zagorsky recently wrote a piece suggesting that the Great Resignation may not be so great after all. He does not limit his perspective to the raw employment numbers provided by the BLS. He also looks at historical data, seasonal trends, and the types of things that cause people to leave their jobs.

Zagorsky does not suggest that people are not leaving their jobs in large numbers; he acknowledges they are. But he maintains that the phenomenon is not as unusual as it is being made out to be. He also suggests that the raw numbers are not excessively high compared to past instances of mass employment migration.

Looking for Work Elsewhere

BenefitMall, a company offering general agency services to thousands of brokers around the country, published a blog post in January 2022 discussing the Great Resignation. In that post, they cited a Harvard Gazette interview with economist Lawrence Katz. One of the main points of the BenefitMall post is that millions of people are leaving their jobs to find work elsewhere.

It would be one thing if 4.5 million people simply checked out of the workforce back in November 2021. That is not what is happening, according to both Katz and Zagorsky. A small minority may be checking out, but the majority of those resigning their positions – or not coming back to work post-pandemic – are simply looking for a better opportunity with a new employer.

This is something that Zagorsky is clear to point out in his piece. He explains that, whenever there is a glut of jobs, people are more willing to make a switch. That certainly is the case now. Employers are desperate to fill open positions due to a very tight labor pool. Employees know that. They also know they are in the driver’s seat here. Right now is an excellent time to use one’s leverage as a job candidate to get a better deal elsewhere.

More Than Just a Job

Dig through the data a little bit deeper and you will discover that the driving force behind the Great Resignation is the desire for something better. The modern workforce wants more than just a job. Collectively, American workers are fed up with being treated no better than a closet full of office supplies.

The pandemic has given employees a new perspective. It has reminded them just how important their families are. It has reminded them that there are other things in life above and beyond earning a paycheck.

What does this mean to employers? They will have to work harder to hire and retain employees. They will have to work with their insurance brokers to come up with better benefits. Meanwhile, brokers will have to go to their general agencies who, in turn, will have to start leaning on carriers.

It turns out the Great Resignation is not all that unusual. We have seen this type of thing before, most recently during the late nineties and early 2000s. Rather than focusing on the raw numbers, a little perspective is in order. With that perspective comes the understanding that this will not be the last time we see this phenomenon occur.