What Societal Drivers Are Compelling the Great Resignation?

December 10, 2021 Updated: December 11, 2021


Everywhere you look today restaurants are closing early or open less hours because they don’t have enough employees. The same is true in other industries—reduced hours resulting in supply chain issues, etc. The Great Resignation is happening, but is capitalism to blame for it?

Capitalism has elevated more people out of poverty than any form of government ever devised. It’s been successful for a simple reason: It’s mutually beneficial for all entities. The human desire to survive is as powerful as the human desire to thrive—capitalism seamlessly coalesces both instincts, which is one reason it’s had a successful path. Generational influencers, however, continue to apply pressure for a much-needed, positive makeover. And I suspect for many companies, it can’t happen quickly enough.

My experience as a small business owner working with mostly Millennial employees has provided me with insight into how to effectively motivate younger generations. In order for business to thrive—perhaps to survive—our workplaces need to mirror the mutuality of benefits inherent in capitalism’s construct. They need to better align with the belief systems and values of today’s majority workforce, the under-age-forty generations. Our workplaces need to reflect a continuation of this natural evolution. The sooner leaders acknowledge the innate, mutual benefits derived from designing equally beneficial workplaces, the sooner our businesses and economy will rebound.

Equal opportunity for all to individually thrive must be inherent within our businesses; the Great Resignation may be a result of failing to design growth opportunities.

A quick Google search yielded 266,000,000 blogs, articles, and organizations offering reasons for why the Great Resignation is happening. As employees access this awareness, they are waking up to the realization that they have options, they have value, and they have power. I believe what we’re seeing with the Big Quit is the epiphany millions of Americans had that they no longer need to work for organizations that don’t appreciate them.

Though predominately being experienced in the United States, the Great Resignation isn’t just a United States “thing.” It’s a global “thing,” so business leaders are worried—and rightly so. Introspective leaders might be asking themselves “Is this a blip, or is this a portentous future warning?”

And isn’t this just one side of the coin? What about the other side—the attraction of future staff, the retention of your remaining, committed employees? Why are we not equally focusing on the entire employee lifecycle?

Let’s go back to March 2020 and the months that followed when many fast-acting companies immediately laid off even their best employees to get ahead of financial losses. Many of these layoffs were absolutely required during COVID-19, especially in the food/beverage, fitness, and travel industries. But the first knee-jerk response to a collapsing economy for many companies was to eliminate valuable, loyal employees. This sent a clear message to far too many people that employees have no value.

I believe this is when it started—when capitalists (business owners) decided to focus completely on short-term profitability versus long-term consequences. And when companies treated employees this way, who can blame employees for wanting something better?

Lawrence Katz, labor economist and Professor of Economics at Harvard, noted in the Harvard Gazette that “there are very strong economic incentives to change jobs—that’s the first reason. But a second issue—we see a lot of anecdotal and survey data on this—I think we’ve really met a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment.”

Why is that? Katz surmises that people are in stronger financial positions due to 2020 lower spending habits, increased savings created by strong governmental subsidies, and societal safety nets during the pandemic, plus high stock market returns.

Wikipedia observes:

The Great Resignation, also known as the Big Quit, is the ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs. … The resignations have been characterized as in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the American government refusing to provide necessary worker protection, and wage stagnation despite rising costs of living.

The COVID-19 pandemic has allowed workers to rethink their careers, work conditions, and long-term goals. As many workplaces attempted to bring their employees in-person, workers desired the freedom to work from home given during the pandemic. With telecommuting also came schedule flexibility, which was the primary reason to look for a new job.

Could this shed light on why folks are leaving? Perhaps they’re seeking better work-life balance, flexible hours, a possibility of working from home, a living wage, benefits that respect employees and their family’s well-being concerns, and their fear of COVID-19—these are certainly all contributing factors.

The majority of employees who left my company, Innovative Commercial Environments (ICE), mostly left to become entrepreneurs, try something more adventurous, or to find a less stressful, deadline-driven workplace or industry. I encourage entrepreneurship and growth so this was not a surprise to us. Because of our brand as an ethical entrepreneur with an employee-centric culture, our pipeline of interested potential employees is extensive—we instantly filled those vacated spots.

One of the few articles found during my Google search that mirrored my leadership style was Eric Strafel’s Chief Executive article Building an Engaged Workforce by Putting Social Issues Front and Center. Strafel focuses on the aspirational virtuous values of younger generations within the workplace. He states that Millennials and “Zoomers”:

… care far more than previous generations did about making an impact on issues that matter to them. This might have something to do with the fact that they grew up with the internet and had access to boundless information about the inequalities in the world. This also might be because so many of the problems we face—climate change, lack of sustainability, deteriorating infrastructure—will affect them the most. These generations know well the ills of the world, and they want to do their part to fix them.

The good news is employers are responding with a 4.2 percent increase in salary; however, throwing money at the feet of this generation won’t retain engaged, highly-motivated employees. The Korn Ferry article What Matters More: Wages or Purpose? reflects my experience at ICE leading Millennials:

A growing desire to be a part of something meaningful is one of the issues driving the Great Resignation. Nearly two-thirds of US-based employees say COVID-19 has prompted them to reflect on their purpose in life, and nearly half say the pandemic has prompted them to reconsider the kind of work they do.

Still, experts say there may be other, more effective strategies for keeping employees engaged and loyal. In survey after survey, Frost says, employees around the world say their top priorities from employers are clarity around what they need to do to do a good job, transparency about their career paths, and support for future career growth. Initiatives such as skill development programs, mentorship opportunities, and workforce planning exercises can address those priorities directly.

Many employers are now trying to make this cultural shift because they’re forced to. Younger generations are savvy; they see right through all the perfunctory statements and marketing excrement. If you do not authentically value your teammates, don’t be surprised at the quit rates as well as the talent attraction challenges within your company, because as I and many Conscious Capitalists know, employees are waking up, realizing “I am valuable.”

Is it the Great Resignation or the Great Awareness? Only time will tell.

DeLinda Forsythe is the author of “Inspiring Generational Leadership: Your Guide to Design a Conscious Culture.” A former CEO, she is keenly aware of what motivates Millennials. Click here for a free book excerpt, Chapter One: Conscious Capitalism, Millennials, and an Evolving Perspective.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

DeLinda Forsythe is the author of "Inspiring Generational Leadership: Your Guide to Design a Conscious Culture." A former CEO, she is keenly aware of what motivates Millennials.