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The Great Resignation explained: Who left their jobs and why

Covid-19 has had a profound impact on the course of our lives in so many ways that it’s hard to keep track of. It has caused fundamental changes in the way we live and the way we work. The Great Resignation is one of these changes, potentially altering the way that Americans view labor rights and the way they relate to employers.

So, what is the Great Resignation of 2021? As the name would suggest, the Great Resignation wave is the term given to a recent trend of workers leaving their jobs in record numbers. The reasons vary, but demands for fairer pay and labor practices are among the most cited reasons for leaving. The Great Resignation has the potential to impact American labor practices, and the global economy if this accelerates new trends.

Why did 4.4 million Americans leave their jobs?

This is the million-dollar question that economists and labor specialists are asking. To be fair, it’s complicated; there is no single reason why people are resigning from their jobs at this record-breaking pace. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t touch on potential causes and see where things look to overlap.

It’s important to take into account that millions of workers from different backgrounds and career fields are all resigning at once, but that doesn’t mean that they are tied closely together. For example, a white-collar worker leaving their job to start their own business isn’t exactly the same as a grocer leaving their job due to burn-out or frustration.

So, if the Great Resignation is here, who’s it really here for? The answer seems to be people that are fed up with work conditions. While this does include the aforementioned white-collar workers looking to start fresh, a greater number include so-called “frontline workers”. These are people who work in:

  • healthcare
  • hospitality
  • service industries
  • retail workers

These laborers are frustrated with work conditions and the compensation they receive, especially in light of being deemed essential workers during Covid. For them, the juice simply isn’t worth the squeeze and so they’re quitting. That’s why you’ve probably seen or heard rumors of fast-food restaurants not having any workers.

The Great Resignation has caught headlines and drawn panic, but there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. While there certainly is a great number of people resigning, there’s some noise that clutters what’s going on, so it’s important to get as much information as you can to declutter all the news and the headlines. This means that it’s harder to get a bead on some of the other main drivers of this process.

Who are the people that quit their jobs?

Well, this question is also a bit tricky, because everyone is resigning. Tech specialists, nurses, retail workers, and whatever else you can imagine are all resigning from their jobs for any number of reasons. So, on the surface of it, everyone is quitting their jobs, but perhaps we can find something else if we dig a bit deeper.

So, if we’re not satisfied with everyone, maybe we can filter it down to find some specific trends. As we have discussed previously, while several career fields are seeing lots of vacancies, the hardest-hit sectors tend to be frontline workers. Burnout and lack of fair compensation are two of the most common factors in these resignations.

These essential workers, particularly those in low-wage jobs like grocers or retail workers, have left seeking better pay. That’s why you’ve probably seen places like gas stations offering $15 per hour to attract workers. So, many of the resignations are workers from low-income jobs changing their career options to find better opportunities. So in some ways, it can be the Great Reshuffling, as workers are looking to shift their careers.

Women and mothers at the forefront

Among these workers, certain demographics make for interesting case studies. Women are leaving their jobs, especially mothers, at a higher rate than men during the Great Resignation Boom. A good deal of this is simply a result of a lack of schooling options leaving women with little choice but to focus on child care.

Minorities are another demographic group that bears mentioning because they make up a large percentage of the low-income earners that are looking to realign their careers. In addition to this, workers that had remote working assignments are pushing to make this permanent arrangement, citing not having to deal with incidents of racism in office cultures.

So, important takeaways are that many of the resignations are being driven by low-income workers in fields like hospitality or retail, looking for better career options. Other key drivers of the resignations are a result of burnout as well. Workers from blue and white-collar backgrounds, though, both see this as a time to reconsider their career prospects and are looking to make a change.

Workers looking for the better

The Great Resignation is here and in force. It’s a multifaceted realignment of the labor market being driven by workers looking for better career prospects like better wages, different working arrangements, or no burnout. Specific demographics like mothers are being squeezed hard by the process as they have to face the decision of choosing between their careers or childcare.

For those looking for a better alternative, freelancing offers great career opportunities. Being self-employed means working for yourself. You get to set a flexible work schedule that adapts to your needs. Freelancing also offers you a chance to work in an inclusive and diverse working environment.

The Great Resignation is the perfect time to consider your career and what you want from it. The biggest takeaway from this historic development is that workers want to be able to take pride in their work and be fairly compensated for their labor. Freelancing is an attractive option to consider for those with marketable skills.

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Leon Cordier
An American writer curious for work trends and freelancing ecosystem.

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