A Northeast Philadelphia grocery store placed a “We Are Hiring – Inquire Within” sign on its entrance door in June 2021. Later, in September, an addition to the sign read: “$250.00 signing bonus” if the applicant is available to start immediately. The sign announced that there were three store locations, with several available positions. As of July 2022, the sign remains. The positions, presumably, remain vacant. The deluge of “We Are Hiring, Help Wanted,” and “Join Our Team” signs is a result of an unprecedented number of vacancies in the workplace.
“The Great Resignation,” as it is referred to, began with some 4.3 million U.S. employees exiting the workplace, in August 2021. As of March 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor reported, 4.4 million employees, an additional 1.1 million, had exited the workplace.
There are various explanations for the mass exit, most notably the one in the tech and healthcare industries. The healthcare industry experienced an increase in demand because of the mass exit due to increased burnout and pandemic workloads. Tech workers say lack of remote working options, non-flexible working hours, toxic work environments and feeling underappreciated are the main reasons for seeking another job.
Goldman Sachs’ economists offered that in actuality only 3% of U.S. employees had exited their jobs, not 40% as sensationalist headlines claimed. In fact, two-thirds weren’t actually quitting at all. They were simply retiring, and they were normal retirements with only an additional 1.5 million early ones.
Abhinav Chugh, in an article from the World Economic Forum, suggests that resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees; these are folks who do not live from paycheck to paycheck and have the leisure of contemplating employment alternatives. The Great Resignation, he suggested, may be historic, but it is not totally inclusive.
Then there is the Business Insider who offered that The Great Resignation is nothing more than payback for employers who, for decades, demanded total loyalty from employees who they treated as disposable.
Workers leaving their jobs, according to a Pew Research Center survey in March 2021, is a result of low wages and little to no opportunities for job advancement. This was the case for 63% of the surveyed employees who had quit their jobs. The end of 2021, Pew says, saw repeated calls to raise the minimum wage in an effort to retain and attract workers, and many companies did in fact do so. But to no avail because, as Pew observes, resignations are not solely about money.
Ron Hetrick, a job market analyst from Emsi Burning Glass, said that “U.S. companies are in the throes of desperation.” So, in desperation, many employers who normally require college degrees are dropping those requirements in an effort to attract employees and provide opportunities for those who remain. Those remaining include some workers who were passed over for promotions because they lacked college degrees.
Even New York City’s prosecutors, due to low salaries, laws that have fundamentally changed how they do their jobs and pandemic burnout, are being replaced by unexperienced and untested prosecutors. Darcel Clark, the Bronx district attorney, said,
“The money is not where it should be, and the work-life balance is just unmanageable.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/04/03/nyregion/nyc-prosecutors-jobs.html)
These explanations sound compelling, but are they new, startling revelations about the conditions in the American workplace? Or did the pandemic highlight these conditions, making it difficult for employers and employees to ignore?
For example, a solid work-life balance has never been an endearing feature of the U.S. workplace. Burn-out is ubiquitous, across all professions, across all incomes. On average, employees work a 35.4-hour work week, with an additional 2-3 hours each week, often, for the commute. During the pandemic, when remote work became the norm, some workers reported increased burnout as they suddenly found themselves at work, in the home, every day of the week. Remember that remote work eliminated the commute, but even that elimination did not lessen employees’ burnout but made them more acutely aware of it. Women, as studies have indicated, have always been disproportionately impacted by burnout because, in addition to the hours they work outside the home, they often carry the major responsibilities for children and the upkeep of the home. With childcare centers being impacted by the pandemic and high rates of resignations resulting in center closures, women’s responsibilities increased and so too the burnout.
In regard to retirement, Goldman Sachs’ analysts may have a point. Baby boomers, those born between 1946-1964, began retiring in 2011, at a rate of about 10,000 per day and will continue to do so until 2030. Certainly, this retirement rate is known by job market analysts and workplace consultants who passed this information on to employers. It’s a possibility that the pandemic coinciding with forecasted retirements caused some vacancies, and the unexpected early retirements put some constraints on some workplaces.
Then, no mention is ever made of the number of years U.S. employees spend working and earning and its relationship to burnout and work-life balance. Even if it truly existed, shouldn’t work-life balance take into consideration that people spend 44-47 years of their lives in the workplace? Where is work-life balance in this? Even, post-retirement is not considered in the equation of work-life balance. As it is, life-expectancy in the U.S. fell to 76.6 years in 2021. Essentially that leaves, on average, a retired employee about 12 years of life outside the workplace. Not much of a balance there. As is, work-life balance can be summed up as nothing more than managing a two-day weekend to prep, refresh, and recharge for another week on the job. Maybe those early retirees reflected on this work-life balance equation and decided to leave.
Then the sudden easing of educational requirements for jobs comes at the same time as the U.S. Department of Education announced the loan debt forgiveness program, targeting 1.3 million borrowers. Historically, 1/3 of U.S. students bury themselves in debt because of the belief that a college degree is key to getting a well-paying job. But entering the job market 43% of debt carrying graduates quickly discover that securing employment in their field is slim to none. These graduates often settle for jobs in low-paying retail positions. The 6-month grace period, allowed before loan repayments begin, suddenly feels like 6 weeks and borrowing-for-a-degree-regret sets in.
“I believe the core reason families are willing to take on such debt is out of fear that their child will face diminished prospects in life if they don’t keep up competitively with their peers,” explained Colin Drake, a personal finance expert and founder of Drake Wealth Management. “Ironically, saddling students with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt may be the very thing which diminishes their prospects in life.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/caseybond/2015/09/04/why-college-isnt-worth-the-money/?sh=25416465653d
And if employers are so quick to eliminate degrees from job qualifications, it raises the question as to whether those degrees were even necessary. As far back as 2013, research suggested that more than 60% of college graduates were not employed in positions that correspond to their field of study; furthermore, they were not very hopeful that they ever would be able to secure such positions. Now what is usually pointed out here is that students should carefully choose fields of study that guarantee employment upon graduation. An opposing point would be that colleges and universities could assist students by not offering degrees for which no jobs exist.
“Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced in March that the state government would strip bachelor’s degree requirements from thousands of job listings.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2022/07/08/jobs-no-college-degrees/
Neither schools nor lenders warn students about the feasibility of college degrees. Consequently, students and families are paying a price for accepting employers’ rule that prospective employees with degrees are more job-ready than those without them. As of May 2022, around 44 million Americans owe a combined $1.7 trillion in student loans for purchasing, what they believe to be, a “heads-up” on working and earning. That some U.S. employers are now eliminating degrees from job requirements, in order to fill vacancies, must come as a relief for employees who can fill those vacancies but who lack degrees. On the other hand, it must come as a profound disappointment to those who are in debt for them.
Then there are the low salaries, power-over, hierarchy, anti-black/brown body practices, white racism/white supremacy, nepotism, sexism, bosses’ and managers’ blatant disdain and disrespect for employees. None of these are COVID era epiphanies. Now LBGTQ, the Health Impairment Community and GNC employees (they were complaining and filing grievances prior to COVID, by the way) are being heard about their treatment in the workplace, including how disparities in job opportunities and salaries impact them.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (one of the many watchdog agencies for the belief in working and earning) was created to confront, stay abreast and alleviate these disparities. The pandemic only served to highlight these systemic inequities, and many others, revealing how they are entrenched in the fabric of the American workplace; more so than they were when the EEOC was created in 1965, over 57 years ago, to address them.
“Abuse of power or power harassment is the misuse of authority to take actions in personal interest that negatively impacts the company and its employees. It’s a relative form of workplace bullying but specifically conducted by a superior. Misuse of authority is common in places with lack of supervision over people in power. The most power harassment prone areas are schools, hospitals, universities and private organizations.” https://yoursafehub.com/abuse-of-power-in-the-workplace/#:~:text=Abuse%20of%20power%20examples%3A,is%20in%20a%20bad%20mood.
“A manager at one of my first jobs once told me that they “threw people under the bus and drove it too.” The moment has stuck with me ever since — a comment so flippantly cruel that it was branded on my brain.” From why they quit their job responses on Twitter
Turning now to low salaries. The last minimum wage increase in the U.S. was in July 2009: $7.25. Since then, the cost of living has increased 35.89%. The bottom line is that the federal minimum wage wasn’t sufficient to maintain a decent standard of living in 2009, without a family; so, to highlight how it is shamefully insufficient as of June 2022 is without merit. Furthermore, do low-wage employees, those likely to live from paycheck to paycheck, have the luxury of quitting like the prosecutors in New York city, whose average annual salary is $83K? Actually,
“It is the low-wage, frontline, minority and lower-level employees who are more likely to want to leave, at rates significantly higher than the norm, the survey found. Those who made less than $60,000 per year were classified as low-wage.” https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/24/the-great-resignation-is-more-of-a-great-reckoning.html.
At least on the assertion that The Great Resignation is not inclusive, Abhinav Chugh is incorrect.
Now remember that pre-pandemic, jobs and working were what Americans hated the most about their lives.1 Then the pandemic arrived, and the contempt intensified, at least according to the Atlantic, May 2022. It is highly unlikely that work-life balance, unequal treatment, white racism, low wages, and lack of opportunities for advancement will disappear as long as the workplace is “the American workplace.” If those who have quit their jobs in hopes that these complaints will be expediently addressed, they are going to be waiting, unemployed, and maybe even broke.
Has the large numbers of workers existing the workplace de-stabilized small businesses and compromised their bottom line?2 Yes, indeed it has. But the few who provide a significant amount of the jobs in the workplace, who profit the most from the belief in working and earning, have not been moved to address employees’ grievances highlighted by The Great Resignation, grievances that existed long before the pandemic.3
For the most part, employers and employees are aware that The Great Resignation is not the direct result of a global pandemic. It is a manifestation of the impact that the pandemic had on existing fissures in the system, especially that of employee dissatisfaction, a dissatisfaction that is responsible for the continued high rates of workplace disengagement. Furthermore, one of the fundamental beliefs, that comprise the belief in working and earning, ‘You need money to pay for everything that makes life on Earth possible’ may have led workers to see that jobs and working were of no benefit when a pandemic requires the shuttering of workplace doors.
Maybe employees contemplated these beliefs during quarantine, passing days in houses, condos and apartments that normally remain vacant at least 40 hours or more each week.
Maybe, just maybe, they concluded that working and earning was not all that it has been proselytized to be. Maybe, if they were paying attention, they took note of the impact of the workplace on their health and the health of the Planet.
“After rising steadily for decades, global carbon dioxide emissions fell by 6.4%, or 2.3 billion tonnes, in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic squelched economic and social activities worldwide, according to new data on daily fossil fuel emissions…The United States contributed the most to the global dip, with a nearly 13% decrease in its emissions, due mostly to a sharp decline in vehicle transportation that began with lockdowns in March and continued as the pandemic escalated at the end of the year.” https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-021-00090-3#:~:text=After%20rising%20steadily%20for%20decades,on%20daily%20fossil%20fuel%20emissions.
The belief in working and earning, and all beliefs in alignment with it, beliefs that operate contrary to the well-being of the Earth and all life on it, are coming under more scrutiny. It will be increasingly difficult to conclude that these beliefs are capable of creating any lasting peace and well-being for the Earth and its inhabitants. It is only a matter of time when the beliefs are found untenable that the practices based on them will, as a matter of course, collapse. The Great Resignation is a sign, maybe just a small one, of the gestation of the shift in awareness needed to enfeeble the belief in and practice of working and earning.
Finally, it is not a question of whether or not the disintegration of this regime’s unsustainable practices will occur, but how. The New Way of Being can be the result of a conscious choice made to lay aside the old because it no longer operates for the highest good of all. Or the New can be ushered in as a result of these already withering systems, and the beliefs that are the foundation of them, being battered by one global upheaval, after another, and another… until they collapse. The pandemic, and The Great Resignation born of it, respectively, is an example of one such upheaval and one such battering.
And that’s the Call, Rap & Real talk about the belief in working and earning a living.
1 Gallup has been conducting surveys on workers and worker engagement for nearly 50 years. Their surveys are evidence that workplace engagement has been declining for years, and that U.S. workers have maintained a disdain for jobs and working.
2 The pandemic resulted in the permanent closure of roughly 200,000 U.S. establishments. On the other hand, there were businesses that laid off employees, but continued to make a profit during the pandemic. This may account for some of the increased workloads and employee burnout.
3 Also, as of 2022, revenues, profit margins have surpassed late-2019 levels for most public companies; bigger firms have fared better than smaller ones (WSJ)
These articles may be of some interest. Two talk about how the Great Resignation has morphed into the Great Regret and the other about student loan debt cancellation. I read these too late to integrate it into the essay. What I found the most entertaining about the first article were the comments. They speak to the entrenchment of the belief in working and earning. Underneath the comments I sensed that in general people identify themselves as “workers” before they identify themselves as human beings. But that’s just my reading. I know them/us to be spirits/creators.