What is 'The Great Resignation'? An expert explains

great resignation essay

The Great Resignation describes workers leaving their jobs in record numbers. Image:  UNSPLASH/Marten Bjork

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What Is the Great Resignation?

It could be a reaction to burnout or movement towards a new work culture..

Posted  July 4, 2022 | Reviewed by Davia Sills

Let’s be honest. We have all fantasized about quitting our jobs and embarking on an alternative career path in a parallel universe. Perhaps you are burned out from your current job, struggling to navigate work-life balance, or realizing from social media the limitless potential in starting your own entrepreneurial ventures. Faced with a shift of normality as we step out of the COVID-19 crisis and overwhelmed by the unsettling waves of geopolitical uncertainty, many people began to ponder the quandary of choice and meaning of life. The existential anxiety we have worked relentlessly to keep at bay has again crept into our consciousness. The “Great Resignation,” or the “Great Rethink,” is a dam breached by the clashing force of societal chaos and a search for opportunities and growth.

The Great Resignation and job burnout

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2021), the number of resignations reached an all-time high in 2021 since 2001, with almost 47 million people leaving their jobs voluntarily in 2021. It is likely COVID-19 provided a unique window and space for many to re-evaluate their personal priorities and career options, empowering individuals to voice their challenges and frustrations at work instead of accepting the status quo. The mandatory order to work from home (WFH) became the catalyst to a workplace revolution; while some people have experienced the positive impact of WFH, with increased autonomy and self- leadership correlated to favorable WFH outcomes (Galanti et al., 2021), others felt overwhelmed by a lack of access to a private workspace as they juggled family obligations with work demands.

Whereas work burnout (Freudenberger, 1974) alludes to feelings of exhaustion and depletion that can lead to increased anxiety and depression (Hakanen & Schaufeli, 2012), work engagement (Kahn, 1990) is the antidote, defined by an energizing sense of vigor and dedication to one’s job. In a meta-analysis aggregating research outcomes on job burnout, Lee & Ashforth (1996) found that job demands (i.e., aspects of the job that require physical, emotional, or cognitive effort) were a better predictor of burnout than job resources (i.e., organizational support, physical and emotional resources that help facilitate work goals and personal/professional growth). It is not surprising that during the pandemic, work demands remained constant if not increased for many workers while work resources remained on a similar level. An imbalance between work demands and resources is likely leaving many feeling unfulfilled and overwhelmed, personally and professionally, as we navigate one after another social crisis. To buffer the negative impact of work demand, consider increasing the level of autonomy at work to help alleviate workload and seek out supervisors or colleagues for emotional and professional support (Xanthopoulou et al., 2007).

SHVETS production/Pexels

Work culture attitude shift from Gen Y to Gen Z

Another strong undercurrent relevant to the Great Resignation is perhaps the attitude shift towards work from Gen Y to Gen Z. The Y generation, also known as Millennials, includes those born between 1980 and 1996. Research suggests that Millennials tend to change jobs more frequently than previous generations (Gibson, Greenwood, Murphy, 2009), perhaps due to entrepreneurial attitudes driven by the desire for autonomy and agency.

Setting themselves apart from the previous generations, individuals from Gen Z (i.e., those born between 1997 and the early 2010s) are less motivated by job security or compensation but rather job satisfaction (Kuzior, Kettler, & Rab, 2022). In a survey study examining employees’ reasons for a job change, the top reasons are related to a lack of belonging at the workplace and not feeling valued by the organization or management (De Smet, Dowling, Mugayar-Baldocchi, & Schaninger, 2021). It appears that compensation and job security are becoming less relevant factors compared to relational factors at work, as there is an attitude shift towards work as a source of meaning and connection rather than a mere means to an end.

In a Harvard Business Review article, experts proposed that what we see as the Great Resignation is likely triggered by five Rs, including retirement , relocation, reconsideration, reshuffling, and reluctance, with each factor associated with a cascade of outcomes responsible for the current labor market trend: Older workers are retiring at a higher rate, WFH has afforded skilled workers the opportunity to relocate, more people have begun to re-contemplate their professional identity , negotiation power has increased as workers switch jobs within the sector instead of leaving the labor market altogether, as well as hesitation of returning to in-person work.

With continued domestic and international crises and limited social engagements and distractions, we search for a sense of fulfillment in our professional identity and question whether we are “working to live or living to work.” A mentor of mine once said, “Mental health is about having choices.” The free will to choose defines our humanity; to be able to choose means to dream for a better future.

The Great Resignation, or rather the Great Rethink, is an unprecedented movement that marks our collective search for meaning and autonomy. During COVID-19, we broke through the entrapment of social isolation by connecting virtually and engaging with our creativity . And now, we challenge the meaning of work and are reshaping work culture with a changing attitude.

De Smet, A., Dowling, B., Mugayar-Baldocchi, M., & Schaninger, B. (2021). ‘Great attrition’or ‘great attraction’? The choice is yours. The McKinsey Quarterly.

Freudenberger HJ. 1974. Staff burnout. J. Soc. Issues 30:159–65

Galanti, T., Guidetti, G., Mazzei, E., Zappalà, S., & Toscano, F. (2021). Work from home during the COVID-19 outbreak: The impact on employees’ remote work productivity, engagement, and stress. Journal of occupational and environmental medicine, 63(7), e426.

Gibson, J. W., Greenwood, R. A., & Murphy Jr, E. F. (2009). Generational differences in the workplace: Personal values, behaviors, and popular beliefs. Journal of Diversity Management (JDM), 4(3), 1-8.

Kahn WA. 1990. Psychological conditions of personal engagement and disengagement at work. Acad. Manag. J. 33:692–724

Kuzior, A., Kettler, K., & Rąb, Ł. (2022). Great Resignation—Ethical, Cultural, Relational, and Personal Dimensions of Generation Y and Z Employees’ Engagement. Sustainability, 14(11), 6764.

Lee RT, Ashforth BE. 1996. A meta-analytic examination of the correlates of the three dimensions of job burnout. J. Appl. Psychol. 8:123–33

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job openings and labor turnover survey (JOLTS), 2021. Available: https://www.bls.gov/jlt/ .

Xanthopoulou D, Bakker AB, Demerouti E, Schaufeli WB. 2007. The role of personal resources in the job demands-resources model. Int. J. Stress Manag. 14:121–41

Alina Liu Psy.D.

Alina Liu, Psy.D is a licensed psychologist in California. She received her doctoral degree from Yeshiva University and her Master's in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania.

great resignation essay

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great resignation essay

The Great Resignation: Rethinking Why We Work Essay

The author is JK McKnight, who created Art of Impact to genuinely engage Gen Z and millennials by positively impacting their lives and communities. He founded the Forecastle Festival, a three-day celebration of music, art, and environmental activity. The article was published on December 3, 2021, on Lane Report, a website that specializes in business news (McKnight, 2021). The paper’s target audience is employers interested in having Gen Z and millennials working for them. McKnight wrote the article when most workers were leaving jobs they could not enjoy. At the same time, the pandemic situation contributed to this because when employees returned from isolation, they felt exhausted and dissatisfied with their careers (McKnight, 2021). This factor caused most of the workers, especially Gen Z and Millennials, to begin searching for jobs where they could satisfy their desires.

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It is significant to mention that the purpose of the article is to inform employers about which factors can encourage the younger generation to work for their company. McKnight has also included some essential advice that is beneficial to recruiters. The author’s central thesis is that there are changes in the workplace now, and successful employers should conform to the major trends in order to retain workers (McKnight, 2021). The article completely achieves the purpose of informing employers of the processes and steps that need to be implemented to ensure that work satisfies the expectations and desires of employees.

The author applies logos, ethos, and pathos to provide articles of logic and present workers’ feelings and desires through statistical data. At the same time, ethos is used to ensure that the evidence presented in the paper appears convincing, authoritative, and reliable. The statistical information that 4.3 million Americans have recently resigned from their jobs or that 80 percent of Gen Z are searching for better employment influences readers’ opinions (McKnight, 2021). Thus, they believe that facts support the writer’s views; accordingly, his advice will be effective for employers. It is significant to emphasize that McKnight is respectful of workers’ preferences.

McKnight effectively applies logos to provide a logical development of his opinions. The author first notes the problems and then indicates the reasons for them. At the same time, he uses the theory of evidence to provide evidence for his arguments (McKnight, 2021). In addition, after clarifying the issue and providing facts, the writer offers advice for encouraging workers to engage in company operations. This presentation is logical and understandable to the reader, which leads to a quick understanding of the basic ideas of the article. Importantly, McKnight defends his position and provides statistical evidence to justify it (McKnight, 2021). He does not address counterarguments in his article, which permits the reader to focus only on his thesis. In terms of sources, the writer applies statistical data and historians’ opinions in equal measure to explain the changing attitudes of employees.

The writer effectively uses pathos to represent the feelings and emotions of workers. It is essential for readers to understand the factors that contribute to generational Z and millennials changing workplaces. For example, Gen Z’s attitude toward being a fundamental part of the team is an integral element of pathos (McKnight, 2021). McKnight has expertly conveyed the understandable desires of employees in such a way that readers support their decision to search for a better job.

McKnight, J.K. (2021). Op-Ed: ‘The Great Resignation’ Rethinking WHY We Work. Lane Report . Web.

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The Great Resignation: Causes and Trends

Introduction, trends in the great resignation, root causes, employers’ roles in addressing the great resignation, hr’s roles in the great resignation.

Employees are at liberty to decide how long they work depending on the employment conditions, personal preferences, and other external conditions. The Great Resignation, often referred to as the Big Quit, is a continued economic movement that began in early 2021, predominantly in the United States, in which employees willingly departed from their positions en masse. Stagnant wages despite increasing living costs, economic freedom given by COVID-19 booster payments, long-term employment unhappiness, and COVID-19 pandemic safety worries are all possible explanations. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022), 4 million Americans resigned from their jobs. In July 2021, after resignations surged in April, leaving 10.9 million available jobs. In the face of such a tidal flood of resignations, employers need to consider ways of keeping their employees. Understanding the root causes of these alarming figures and the implications on HR is the first step toward addressing them.

The rates of work resignation have been trending upwards in the past few years. Recent social and economic changes are responsible for the trends in the great resignation witnessed in the recent past. The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly altered people’s perceptions of employment. Staying at home may have shifted some people’s perceptions of what is not required. Given the number of job postings, the number of persons quitting their positions is in accordance with predictions (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). This trend indicates that the volume and complexity of opportunities may be motivating resignations. More than 4.3 million people resigned from their jobs in December 2021 (down somewhat from over 4.5 million people in November 2021), but only 1.2 million were fired or laid off (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). The trends observed have maintained high resignation rates for the past two years.

Resignation trends seem to be determined by job positions, salary, and benefits. According to a Bankrate (2022) study, 55 percent of working or job-seeking Americans indicated that they were likely to hunt for a new position in the following 12 months. Specifically, 77 percent of Gen Zers and 63 percent of millennials planned to look for work, while 72 percent of individuals earning below $30,000 per year planned to look for work (Bankrate, 2022). Black and Hispanic Individuals were more enthusiastic about finding new careers. Workers over the age of 50 and those making well over $80,000 annually were less likely to look for jobs (Bankrate, 2022). Food and accommodation services (6.0 percent) and retail commerce (4.9 percent) had the highest resignation rates in December 2021 and also the highest number of job openings (US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022). Notably, the rise in resignation rates is directly related to the working conditions and individual job perceptions.

Work culture plays a significant role in determining employee job satisfaction and positions’ retainment. The primary work cultures, collaborative and individualistic, account for employees’ different work perceptions and reactions. Both cultural inclinations have contributed to the high resignation rates in many economic sectors globally in different ways. Although many people believe the employees are motivated by monetary benefits, Allman (2021) shows that workers are more inclined to personal growth and satisfaction. Individualistic organizations are characterized by control and employee manipulation. By viewing workers as mere tools for wealth generation, these organizations have failed to recognize the need for improving working conditions (Mondy & Martocchio, 2015). In such organizational cultures, employees experience limited opportunities for growth and career advancement, a trend that has led to high resignation rates.

Employee compensation has been a topic for discussion in many avenues. The subject of rewards is crucial because the employees’ determination, skills, and motivation affect an organization’s growth. Salary and benefits have been viewed as one way of retaining employees, although it has also contributed to unfavorable working conditions. According to Mondy and Martocchio (2015), employees need to feel well appreciated for their labor. However, many individualistic organizations hold employees’ salaries at a minimum, causing dissatisfaction and ultimately leading to resignation. Many employees who quit their jobs indicate their dissatisfaction with the compensation rates. Although workers understand the value of gaining skills and appreciate non-monetary benefits, failing to meet their personal needs causes all other benefits to lose meaning, ultimately forcing them to resign.

As the economic conditions shift, workers have realized the need for personal training and continuous improvement in the face of work uncertainties. While job specifications may remain the same, HR and potential employers have upgraded their hiring requirements. For this reason, employees tend to consider staying in jobs that offer them training opportunities and equip them with skills necessary for future opportunities. Mondy and Martocchio (2015) note that leaders who motivate employees to learn and provide the essential tools and prospects are more likely to have higher retention rates. Essentially, the detrimental impact of current working conditions on future employability has led to higher resignation rates.

Collaboration is the alternative culture to individualistic employer culture that has considerably affected people’s perceptions of work. Teams of employees who are acknowledged as crucial partners in operations and income generation constitute the collaborative workforce (Mondy & Martocchio, 2015). In such cases, employers are seen as inseparable from the monetary benefits accrued to the company. Workforce studies show that when employees cooperate, they work 15 percent quicker, 73 percent perform better, and 56 percent are more engaged, according to Harvard, Gallup, and other academics (Allman, 2021). However, even in collaborative work cultures, resignation rates have skyrocketed in the recent past due to burnout. After months of excessive workloads, recruitment restrictions, and other pressures, they hit a breaking point, forcing them to reconsider their work and personal priorities.

Having understood the negative implications of the great resignation on businesses, employers need to develop practical solutions to minimize the resignation rates. The first step entails gaining a comprehensive view of the causes of the great resignation. Employers have to understand the specific reasons causing employee dissatisfaction or the external factors motivating them to resign. This is a crucial step because these factors vary among organizations. Allman (2021) argues that employers need to be more appreciative of their workers and endeavor to provide a healthy working environment. Recently, the impact of mental health on work productivity has gained attention, with employers being asked to facilitate the mental wellbeing of their employees through medical coverage and counseling.

In the face of global economic, political, and social challenges, organizations need to develop a culture of care. Mondy and Martocchio (2015) define this culture as providing administrative support for employees’ social, physical, professional, and emotional wellbeing. This can be achieved by equipping leaders with the necessary abilities, such as the capacity to empathize with employees’ reports by being directly involved in their work and personal lives. Employers should also change their views of employees’ roles in company growth. They should start viewing employees as crucial partners in their organizations as opposed to money-making tools.

To address the “Great Resignation,” HR professionals must work closely with business executives to guarantee that the workplace culture reflects the organization’s aims. Workers today desire to work for a firm that supports their values and allows them to make a meaningful contribution (Allman, 2021). All leaders must clearly define what the firm stands for and illustrate how the culture and attitudes reflect those beliefs in order to retain employees and increase engagement. A cultural shift should start from HR and be reflected by the executive management for employees to connect with it.

Diversity, inclusion, and equality are essential elements that HR needs to consider and implement in an effort to mitigate resignation rates. This begins at the recruitment stage, where HR managers have to shift their perspectives on potential candidates’ values and attributes. An organization’s value system should be communicated during the hiring process to ensure that employees are willing to abide by it. Hiring managers should promote equality by recruiting employees based on their professional suitability as opposed to age, race, color, or other affiliations.

Notably, judging new candidates on their skill sets rather than their employment history, college degrees, or other established qualifications can make it fairer and increase workforce diversity (Allman, 2021). An equitable workforce is more likely to collaborate, thereby developing a healthy work culture.

Work-life balance and the availability of personal development opportunities are some of the main attributes contributing to higher retention rates. The Bankrate (2022) survey showed that employees are looking for jobs that guarantee them both financial and personal growth. The lack of work-life balance has led to burnout, which is among the top reasons behind the rise in resignation rates. HR managers can solve this problem by providing platforms for rest and recreation and enabling personal development through seminars and workshops financing. If employees feel appreciated and cared for, they would be more willing to remain in their workplaces. However, it is crucial to understand that the current work environment may not be sufficient or the individual worker’s growth needs, calling for flexibility. Therefore, HR should periodically review their work policies and compare them with the industry trends to guarantee relevance.

The great resignation has been attributed to changing economic, social, and political environments. Research presented herein has shown that the resignation rates have been rising exponentially in the past two years. Many of the employees who resign cite poor working environments and the need for growth and development. Although some external factors are beyond the employer’s and HR’s control, they can improve internal workplace conditions to motivate employees to remain at work. The work culture is among the primary areas employers should focus on since it influences employee-employer relations and determines client relations. As the economy changes, HR should support employees’ career development through seminars and workshops to enable them to gain new skills relevant for future employability. Lastly, HR should constantly check the organization’s value system and update it accordingly.

Allman, K. (2021). Career matters: “The great resignation” sweeping workplaces around the world. Law Society of NSW Journal , (81), 46–47. Web.

Bankrate (2022). Survey: 55% expecting to search for a new job over the next 12 months. Bankrate. Web.

Mondy, R. W., & Martocchio, J. J. (2015). Human resource management (14th ed.). Pearson.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022). Table 4. Quits levels and rates by industry and region, seasonally adjusted . U.S. Bureau of Labor statistics. Web.

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great resignation essay

The “Great Resignation” in perspective

There is no question that the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has wreaked havoc on the U.S. labor market. Multiple waves of COVID-19, along with efforts to limit disease spread and offset its economic impacts, have led to dramatic ups and downs in the economy. After reaching 10.0 percent in October 2009, 1 shortly after the end of the 2007–09 Great Recession, the unemployment rate fell steadily, reaching 3.5 percent just before the onset of the pandemic. The unemployment rate then more than quadrupled, reaching 14.7 percent in April 2020. Since then, however, the unemployment rate has fallen steadily, standing at 3.8 percent in February 2022.

A little over a year after the COVID-19 pandemic began, economists and other observers took note of a rising job quit rate, as measured by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) program. JOLTS recorded a seasonally adjusted quit rate of 2.4 percent in the second month of the program’s existence (January 2001), and although this level was matched at other times, it was not surpassed until March 2021, when the quit rate reached 2.5 percent. This new record was quickly eclipsed in April 2021, when the quit rate stood at 2.8 percent; the current record is 3.0 percent, first reached in November 2021 and matched in December 2021. The rise in the quit rate has been called the “Great Resignation,” with many articles in the popular press speculating about why individuals have become more willing to leave their current employers. 2 The fact that the labor force participation rate remains below its prepandemic high suggests that some of those who quit their jobs found new jobs and others exited the labor force.

In this article, I provide some additional perspectives on trends in quit rates. First, I address the variation in quit rates that might occur from month to month because of statistical chance, given that these rates are measured through a sample rather than a census of establishments. Next, I examine data on quit rates predating the JOLTS program, to see whether the rates we have been observing recently are high relative to those in the second half of the 20th century. I then examine available JOLTS estimates to understand why they have risen of late. How much of the rise can be explained simply by the labor market tightening that began after the Great Recession and then, following a brief downturn during the pandemic recession in the first half of 2020, resumed its course? Have there been shifts in employment to industries in which quit rates tend to be higher, or have quit rates risen across industries?

Data on labor turnover

In a 1982 Monthly Labor Review article, Carol M. Utter detailed the BLS experience with labor turnover surveys (which primarily covered manufacturing) during the 20th century. 3 From 1930 until budget cutbacks ended the BLS Labor Turnover Survey (LTS) in December 1981, information was collected on both accessions to an employer’s workforce (broken down, at times, into new hires, recalls, and transfers) and separations (divided into quits, layoffs, and discharges). However, the process by which these earlier estimates were produced was inconsistent over time, and it is inconsistent with the current process under JOLTS.

In 1926, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company initiated a labor turnover survey (which would eventually develop into the LTS) in order to enable personnel managers in manufacturing plants to assess where their employees stood relative to national benchmarks. In 1929, this project was turned over to BLS, which began collecting monthly data in 1930. BLS started with a sample of 175 large establishments, accounting for 25 percent of manufacturing employment, and, over the next 10 years, expanded the sample size. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the calculation of quit rates did not cover all manufacturing workers until 1943, because, prior to that year, it included only production workers. 4

While BLS was increasing the sample size for the LTS, some state employment security agencies affiliated with the U.S. Employment Service of the Department of Labor began collecting labor turnover data for their own purposes. BLS began to enter cooperative agreements with state agencies for the joint collection of these data, starting with an agreement with Connecticut in 1954. By 1964, these agreements reached all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with the LTS sample totaling 40,000 reporting establishments in manufacturing and mining. 5 Before the LTS was discontinued in 1981, there was a brief period during which the survey also collected job openings data, as well as information on some nonmanufacturing industries in certain metropolitan areas.

Nearly two decades later, BLS resumed the collection of information on job openings and labor turnover by initiating JOLTS. This survey, which first released official estimates in December 2000, currently has a sample of about 20,700 nonfarm business and government establishments covering the entire nonagricultural workforce, including workers employed in manufacturing, services, and government. Besides differing in scope, the LTS and JOLTS differ in their definitions of key concepts. The LTS defines quits as (1) terminations of employment initiated by the employee, (2) instances of failure to report for work after being hired (if the employee was previously counted as a new hire), and (3) unauthorized absences from work if, on the last business day of the month, the employee has been absent for more than 7 consecutive calendar days. 6 The second and third categories likely are very small relative to the first, but precise data on their relative size do not exist. JOLTS defines quits as employees who left their job voluntarily, excluding those who retired or transferred to other locations. 7 Quit rates are computed by first estimating the number of quits for the entire reference month and then dividing total quits in a sector by employment in that sector. The resulting ratios are multiplied by 100 and converted into percentages.

The JOLTS design is based on a random sample stratified by ownership, region, industry sector, and establishment size class. Surveyed establishments are drawn from a universe of more than 9.4 million establishments compiled by the BLS Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages program. This universe includes all employers subject to state unemployment insurance laws and all federal agencies subject to the Unemployment Compensation for Federal Employees program. Each month, employment estimates are benchmarked (or ratio adjusted) to the strike-adjusted employment estimates of the Current Employment Statistics survey.

To avoid mistaking random fluctuations for genuine trends, one should keep in mind how large a change in quit rates must be in order to be statistically significant. For this purpose, JOLTS publishes, for each year and each series, median standard errors, which are derived from the standard errors of not seasonally adjusted monthly estimates for the previous 5 years. Using these standard errors, one can form confidence intervals around two estimates being compared; if the intervals overlap, the difference between the estimates is not statistically significant. 8 Alternatively, JOLTS also publishes, on a monthly basis and by series, the minimum month-to-month and year-to-year changes required for statistical significance.

Armed with standard errors, one can assess which recent month-to-month and year-to-year changes are statistically significant. The standard error for the economywide quit rate in 2021 was 0.050, while that for 2020 was 0.046. By creating confidence intervals around monthly quit-rate estimates during these 2 years and by checking whether these intervals overlap, one can easily see that changes of 0.2 percentage points or more are significant at the 5-percent level. The quit rate rose from 1.6 percent in April 2020 to 3.0 percent in November 2021, a gain of 1.4 percentage points; the 95-percent confidence intervals for these rates are more than 1.2 percentage points apart.

Historical data on quit rates

Thus far, the discussion has centered on seasonally adjusted (as opposed to not seasonally adjusted) quit rates. Over the course of a given year, the pattern of quits, just like that of many other labor market phenomena, is affected by seasonal trends. For instance, people enrolled in school may quit their summer jobs at the end of the season in order to return to full-time study. Likewise, individuals thinking of leaving a job may stay on past the end of the year so not to miss out on a holiday bonus. Separating the effects of these seasonal events from trends over time customarily involves presenting seasonally adjusted statistics. Because this section compares seasonally adjusted JOLTS data with historical data, performing a valid comparison requires the use of seasonally adjusted historical data as well.

LTS seasonally adjusted data are available only for the 1959–81 period, only for manufacturing. Although manufacturing was a larger part of the economy in that period than it has been under JOLTS, it still did not account for most of the economy. Yet, it remains possible to better understand current quit rates by comparing historical manufacturing quit rates with 21st-century quit rates in manufacturing and the overall economy (excluding agriculture).

For this comparison, it may be informative to provide some context on manufacturing’s place in the economy in the two eras. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, manufacturing was the largest major sector of the economy from 1959 to 1981, accounting for an average of about 24 percent of gross domestic product (GDP). 9 In contrast, since the beginning of JOLTS in 2000, manufacturing has accounted for half that share, or about 12 percent of GDP. 10 Because sectors with higher average pay tend to have lower quit rates—a relationship discussed in more detail below—it is also informative to see how manufacturing compares with other sectors in terms of compensation in both periods. From 1959 to 1981, manufacturing compensation per full-time equivalent employee—a broad measure of average pay—exceeded compensation in nonmanufacturing industries by about 20 percent, on average. 11 Although manufacturing has shrunk as a share of GDP, it remains a relatively high-paying sector, employing workers who have averaged a 15-percent compensation premium since JOLTS began. 12

Because the seasonally adjusted quit rates from the LTS are available only for manufacturing, they cannot be used to assess the aforementioned general proposition positing a negative relationship between pay and quit rates across sectors. 13 For the 2001–20 period, it is possible to use JOLTS data to calculate average annual quit rates for each of 18 sectors and then correlate these rates with the ratio of compensation to the number of full-time equivalent employees. Making this computation and averaging the correlation coefficients over the years in the period, one obtains a coefficient of −0.64 for the case in which the sectors are not weighted by their employment and a coefficient of −0.69 for the case in which the sectors are weighted. (A correlation coefficient of −1.00 indicates a perfect negative relationship.) Thus, there is evidence that higher pay deters quitting, although compensation is far from being the only factor.

Examining the relationship between quit rates in manufacturing and quit rates in the total economy during the JOLTS period can reveal what economywide quit rates would have been back in the 1960s and 1970s, had they been measured by the LTS. Chart 1 displays the quit rates for manufacturing and the total economy from December 2000 (just before the start of the 2001 recession) to December 2021. A few things are notable from the graph. First, quit rates generally rose during the period’s two long expansions, which lasted from November 2001 to December 2007 and from June 2009 to February 2020. Second, in 2021, the economywide quit rates rose to levels not seen in the earlier history of JOLTS, peaking at 3.0 percent. Third, manufacturing quit rates followed a pattern nearly identical to that of economywide quit rates, with a correlation coefficient of 0.90 between the two series (the maximum coefficient is 1.00). Finally, in every month over the period, the manufacturing quit rate was lower than the economywide quit rate.

These relationships, along with the fact that data for manufacturing exist for the 1959–81 period, suggest the following experiment. Assuming that the relationship between manufacturing and economywide quit rates was the same over this period as it has been since the turn of the 21st century, one can estimate what economywide quit rates would have been in the 1960s and 1970s. To do so, one can use linear regression and the following specification:

where QR E,m is the economywide quit rate in month m , QR M,m is the manufacturing quit rate in month m , b 0 is the constant, b 1 is the coefficient, and ε m is the error term. The regression can be run by using the JOLTS data, which provide quit rates for both manufacturing and the total economy. Then, the estimated coefficients and the manufacturing quit rates from the LTS can be used to predict what the economywide quit rates might have been from 1959 to 1981. This calculation is based on the following equation:

Running regression (1) by using information from JOLTS for the period from December 2000 to December 2021, one arrives at the following relationship: 

Plugging the manufacturing quit rates for 1959–81 in equation (3), one can obtain an estimate of what the economywide quit rates would have been during that period. Chart 2 displays the results of this calculation, showing both actual manufacturing quit rates and predicted economywide quit rates. According to these estimates, the highest economywide quit rates were seen in 1973, toward the end of the business cycle expansion that took place between November 1970 and November 1973, with rates hitting as high as 3.3 percent, exceeding the JOLTS high by 0.3 percentage points, or roughly 10 percent. The estimated quit rates also exceeded 3.0 percent in the last year of the expansion from February 1961 to December 1969.

While these estimates suggest that quit rates in the past have reached levels as high as those seen recently, they come with some caveats. Besides the fact that the economywide estimates are based on a simple backward extrapolation of the current relationship between manufacturing and total quit rates, LTS microdata are unavailable, so it is not possible to assess statistical significance. In addition, as noted earlier, quits are defined slightly more broadly in the LTS than in JOLTS, which suggests that one might need to lower the economywide quit-rate estimate. On the other hand, as also noted previously, manufacturing provided higher pay in the 1960s and 1970s than in the 21st century, which indicates a bigger gap between the manufacturing quit rate and the economywide quit rate.

Why did quit rates rise in 2021?

This section evaluates whether a tightening of the labor market can explain the recent rise in quit rates. It also examines which sectors of the economy have contributed the most to that rise.

Measures of labor market slack and rates of resignation

Although, as noted, historical quit rates in the United States have likely reached levels as high as those observed today, it remains unclear why the rates seen over the last year are higher than those recorded in the preceding two decades. One likely reason for this difference is labor market tightness, and there are many possible explanations for why and how the labor market rebounded after the pandemic-induced recession in the first half of 2020. These explanations focus on developments such as the end of lockdowns, the stimulus coming from increased generosity of and enhanced eligibility for unemployment insurance benefits, relief payments to individuals, and increases in food assistance. Other developments that may have caused individuals to leave their jobs (and perhaps the labor force) include the desire of workers to protect themselves and their families from COVID-19, as well as challenges in providing childcare as a result of pandemic-related closures of childcare centers and the widespread use of remote schooling. 14 Although it is beyond the scope of this article to test each of these explanations individually, they all suggest a tightening of the labor market. It is possible to assess whether the recent rise in quit rates is merely a function of a decline in labor market slack.

It has already been noted that quit rates tend to rise during expansions, when workers’ prospects for finding a better job brighten. With the unemployment rate having returned to low levels, is the recent increase in quit rates merely a function of a tightening labor market?

Addressing this question requires a measure of labor market slack. How this measure should be constructed is an active area of research, and currently no consensus exists on the best measurement approach. As discussed by Katharine G. Abraham, John C. Haltiwanger, and Lea E. Rendell, the unemployment rate has long been used as a measure of labor market tightness, given its evident correlation with the business cycle. 15 The increased popularity among economists of search-and-matching models—which seek to explain a number of features of the macroeconomy—has increased the importance of considering job openings along with the unemployment rate. In these models, labor market tightness is measured by the ratio of job openings (the number of positions employers wish to fill) to the level of unemployment (the number of people who do not have a job and actively look for work). Thus, the higher the ratio, the tighter the labor market. Abraham, Haltiwanger, and Rendell develop what they term a “generalized measure of labor market tightness,” a measure whose denominator accounts for all potential jobseekers (not just the unemployed) and whose numerator is adjusted for firms’ recruiting intensity. 16 Regis Barnichon and Adam Hale Shapiro recently looked at nine different measures of slack, testing their ability to predict inflation. 17

Again using linear regression, the analysis below examines whether the relationship between quit rates and two measures of labor market tightness or slack—the unemployment rate and the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people 18 —has changed since COVID-19 began. 19 Because economic theory does not dictate the form of this relationship, two regression specifications are used. In the first specification, quit rates are a linear function of labor market slack:

Because quits are responding to the level of labor market tightness, the dependent variable in equation (4)—the quit rate—is specified as a function of the lagged value of the measure of labor market tightness, where the lag is 1 month. The second specification allows a more general relationship between slack and quit rates, positing quit rates as a quadratic function of slack:

For each measure, two regressions—one linear and one quadratic—are first run on the entire sample of JOLTS economywide quit rates, to get a sense of the relationship for the entire period from December 2000 to December 2021. The sample is then restricted to the prepandemic period (December 2000–February 2020), and the relationship found for this time span is projected forward, up through the end of 2021. If the regressions underpredict the quit rates, one can infer that the relationship between labor market tightness and quit rates has changed such that, at any given level of labor market tightness, there is now more quitting. Conversely, if the regressions overpredict the quit rates, one can infer that there is now less quitting at given levels of labor market tightness.

Table 1 summarizes the regression results. The table’s first data row (linear specification) in panel A shows that, as expected, when the unemployment rate goes up, the quit rate goes down. The quadratic specification, presented in the second data row, shows a similar relationship, although in this case the positive sign on the squared term indicates that the slope tends to be less negative at higher unemployment rates. The fit for the quadratic specification ( R -squared of 0.58) is better than that for the linear specification ( R -squared of 0.52). The next two rows of table 1 repeat these specifications, this time for the prepandemic period. The fit is now much better, with R -squared climbing above 0.9 for both the linear and quadratic specifications.

In the linear specification, the predicted quit rates are lower than the actual rates by an average of 0.74 percentage points for all of 2021 and by 0.82 percentage points for the second half of the year. In the quadratic specification, these differences are, respectively, 0.76 percentage points and 0.83 percentage points, showing a similar underprediction. Thus, both specifications suggest that, during the pandemic, the relationship between the unemployment rate and the quit rate has changed such that, at any level of the unemployment rate, the recent period exhibits a higher rate of quitting.

Because this finding could be sensitive to the choice of measure of labor market tightness, it is useful to try the alternative measure mentioned earlier, namely, the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people. As shown in panel B of table 1, the results based on this alternative measure for the entire JOLTS period indicate that the quadratic specification is a better fit ( R -squared of 0.76) than the linear specification ( R -squared of 0.70). As expected, both specifications suggest that when the labor market tightens, the quit rate goes up. When the regression is restricted to the prepandemic period from December 2000 through February 2020, the fit is much improved for the quadratic specification ( R -squared of 0.88) and mildly improved for the linear specification ( R -squared of 0.74). As with the regression using the unemployment rate as a measure of slack, the coefficients obtained for this shortened period are extrapolated to the period from March 2020 through December 2021, with the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people being used to make predictions.

In the quadratic specification, the model underpredicts the rate of quitting by an average of about 0.53 percentage points for all of 2021 and by 0.73 percentage points for the second half of the year. These levels of underprediction are somewhat lower than those obtained for the quadratic specification in the analysis using the unemployment rate as a measure of labor market tightness. The linear model also underpredicts the rate of quitting, although the levels of underprediction in this case average just 0.33 percentage points for all of 2021 and 0.26 percentage points for the second half of that year. Thus, while the levels of underprediction differ somewhat across specifications and measures, they consistently suggest that the relationship between labor market slack and quit rates has changed such that, conditional on the level of slack, there is a higher level of quitting in the recent period.

In sum, the results of the regression analysis suggest that if the relationship between quit rates and labor market slack had not changed, quit rates would still have risen from their April 2020 level of 1.6 percent, albeit not to the heights actually seen. For the linear and quadratic specifications using the unemployment rate as a measure of labor market tightness, the model predicts that quit rates would have risen to 2.2 percent. The linear model based on the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people predicts a peak of 2.3 percent. Only in the quadratic model for this measure do the predicted quit rates come close to the actual rates, with the predicted high being 2.9 percent.

Decomposition of the rise in quit rates

The preceding analysis indicates that the quit rates recorded recently are high for the 21st century, even after accounting for the degree of labor market tightness. Given this finding, it is useful to examine which sectors of the economy are contributing most to the rise in quit rates. One standard way to do this is through a decomposition analysis, whereby the change in the quit rate over a given period can be broken into three components: (1) a “within” component attributable to increases in quit rates within sectors, (2) a “between” component attributable to shifts in employment across sectors, and (3) a component attributable to an interaction of the “between” and “within” components. The equation for the decomposition is

where QR is the quit rate, π s 0 is the share of employment in sector s at the beginning of the period, π s 1 is the share of employment in sector s at the end of the period, and S is the number of sectors. The expression in the first set of square brackets is the “within” component, that in the second set of brackets is the “between” component, and that in the third set of brackets is the interaction term. The decomposition is performed for two periods: (1) from the end of the Great Recession in June 2009 to the peak in quit rates in November 2021, and (2) from April 2020 (after the quit rate fell early in the pandemic) to November 2021. Because neither of these periods is very long, one would not expect major shifts in employment across sectors and, thus, a large “between” component. Nonetheless, the decomposition technique can reveal which sectors contribute the most to the “within” component, possibly providing clues about why quit rates have been rising.

Panel A of table 2 displays the decomposition for the period from April 2020 to November 2021, during which the total nonfarm quit rate (see bottom of panel) nearly doubled, from 1.6 percent to 3.0 percent. Besides displaying this overall rate, the table shows quit rates for 19 industry sectors, indicating that, at the beginning of the period, these rates ranged from 0.6 percent for the federal government and durable goods manufacturing all the way up to 3.8 percent for accommodation and food services. As noted earlier, sectors with higher compensation tend to have lower quit rates. During the 19-month period, all sectors saw quit-rate increases, although these increases were quite small for the federal government, state and local government education, and educational services. In fact, the change for these sectors is not statistically significant, nor is it for the information sector.

Calculating the “within” component of the decomposition involves taking the change in quit rates in a sector and weighting it by the sector’s employment share. As seen in the table, the “within” component was responsible for more than 1.2 percentage points of the 1.4-percentage-point increase in the total nonfarm quit rate during the period, suggesting that the “between” component and the interaction term were unimportant. The sectors with the greatest contribution to this component were retail trade, professional and business services, accommodation and food services, and healthcare and social assistance. The “within” components of these four sectors were responsible for about 61 percent of the overall “within” component, 20 both because these sectors had large increases in their quit rates and because all of them, except accommodation and food services, were relatively large.

Panel B of table 2 displays an identical decomposition for the period from June 2009 to November 2021, during which the total nonfarm quit rate (see bottom of panel) rose from 1.3 percent to 3.0 percent. Although this longer period allows for greater shifts in employment across sectors, the case remains that the “within” component of the decomposition was responsible for nearly the entire quit-rate increase. Over the period, all sectors, including the federal government and educational services, saw notable increases in their quit rates, and these increases were all statistically significant, with the exception of that for other services. The sectors with the greatest contribution to the “within” component (about 66 percent) were the same as those identified in the first decomposition, but their ordering is somewhat different, with accommodation and food services having the largest contribution, followed by retail trade, professional and business services, and healthcare and social assistance. 21

This finding is partly consistent with a recent study by the Pew Research Center, according to which most workers who quit their jobs in 2021 cited low pay, no advancement opportunities, and feeling disrespected as the main reasons for their resignations. 22 Indeed, compensation-based factors are relevant to the low-paying sectors of retail trade and accommodation and food services. However, the other factors identified in the Pew study could apply to any industry sector, and the study did not examine the reasons for the change in quit rates. In the case of healthcare and social assistance, one can also speculate that the COVID-19 pandemic might have made some healthcare-related jobs more stressful, leading to worker burnout and higher quit rates.

This article has offered a broader perspective on the recent rise in quit rates, a phenomenon called the “Great Resignation.” The historical data examined in the article suggest that recent quit rates, while certainly high for the 21st century, are not the highest historically. Nonetheless, the pace of resignations seems to have risen more quickly than one would have expected from labor market tightening alone. Future research should assess alternative explanations for this development, taking into account pandemic-related factors such as increased stimulus payments, health concerns, childcare issues, and changing attitudes toward work. Examining which demographic groups have seen their quit rates rise most quickly might provide clues here. 23 Future research should also pinpoint what is happening to workers who are resigning for the first time: are they leaving the labor force or moving on to better jobs?

Maury Gittleman, "The “Great Resignation” in perspective," Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, July 2022, https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2022.20

1 This unemployment rate, available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is seasonally adjusted. Unless otherwise noted, all indicators provided in the article are seasonally adjusted.

2 Examples of such articles include Rashida Kamal, “‘The Great Resignation’: June’s U.S. jobs report hides unusual trend,” The Guardian , July 3, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/business/2021/jul/03/us-jobs-report-june-trend ; Derek Thompson, “Three myths of the Great Resignation,” The Atlantic , December 8, 2021, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/12/great-resignation-myths-quitting-jobs/620927/ ; and Kate Morgan, “The Great Resignation: how employers drove workers to quit,” BBC , June 29, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210629-the-great-resignation-how-employers-drove-workers-to-quit .

3 Carol M. Utter, “Labor turnover in manufacturing: the survey in retrospect,” Monthly Labor Review , June 1982, pp. 15–17, https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1982/06/art3full.pdf .

4 “Labor turnover, quit rate, manufacturing,” NBER series 08251 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research), https://data.nber.org/databases/macrohistory/rectdata/08/docs/m08251b.txt .

5 Estimates were reported not only for manufacturing as a whole, but also for individual manufacturing industries.

6 Katherine Bauer, “Differences between JOLTS and LTS programs,” unpublished memorandum (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 27, 2016).

7 See ibid.; and Job openings and labor turnover—December 2021 , USDL-22-0152 (U.S. Department of Labor, February 1, 2022), https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/jolts_02012022.pdf .

8 A 10-percent confidence interval around an estimate µ is given by µ ± 1.64 σ , where σ is the standard error.

9 “Value added as a percentage of gross domestic product, 1947–1987” (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis).

10 “Value added by industry as a percentage of gross domestic product,” annual data from 1997 to 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis).

11 “Compensation of employees, 1947–1987” (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis); and “Full-time equivalent employees, 1948–1987” (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis). These data, which are based on the 1972 Standard Industrial Classification system, were used to calculate, for each year, ratios of compensation to number of full-time equivalent employees both in manufacturing and in the total economy minus manufacturing. An unweighted average of these ratios was then computed for manufacturing and the total economy minus manufacturing.

12 “Compensation of employees,” annual data from 1998 to 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis); and “Full-time equivalent employees,” annual data from 1998 to 2020 (U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis).

13 For some evidence on, and a discussion of, the relationship between compensation and turnover, see Harley Frazis and Mark A. Loewenstein, “How responsive are quits to benefits?” Journal of Human Resources , vol. 48, no. 4, fall 2013, pp. 969–997.

14 See, for example, Titan Alon, Matthias Doepke, Jane Olmstead-Rumsey, and Michèle Tertilt, “This time it’s different: the role of women’s employment in a pandemic recession,” Working Paper 27660 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, August 2020); Alexander W. Bartik, Marianne Bertrand, Feng Lin, Jesse Rothstein, and Matthew Unrath, “Measuring the labor market at the onset of the COVID-19 crisis,” Working Paper 27613 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2020); and R. Jason Faberman, Andreas I. Mueller, and Ayşegül Şahin, “Has the willingness to work fallen during the Covid pandemic,” Working Paper 29784 (Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research, February 2022).

15 Katharine G. Abraham, John C. Haltiwanger, and Lea E. Rendell, “How tight is the U.S. labor market?” Brookings Papers on Economic Activity , spring 2020, pp. 97–138, https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/Abraham-final-web.pdf .

17 Regis Barnichon and Adam Hale Shapiro, “What’s the best measure of economic slack?” FRBSF Economic Letter (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, February 22, 2022), https://www.frbsf.org/economic-research/publications/economic-letter/2022/february/what-is-best-measure-of-economic-slack/ .

18 Although, as noted, there are other measures of labor market slack, they are not appropriate for the present analysis. Some of them, such as job switching, are too close to being measures of the phenomenon for which an explanation is sought, and others, such as Abraham, Haltiwanger, and Rendell’s measure, are available only for the prepandemic period.

19 It is common for analysts to check whether the relationship expressed in a regression model has changed over time by looking for what is known as a structural break. Here, coefficients for the period preceding the structural break are compared with coefficients for the period following the structural break, to see if their differences are statistically significant. Although tests for the presence of a structural break at a known time reject the hypothesis that there was no structural break just before the onset of the pandemic, the fact that there are fewer than 2 years’ worth of observations following this break means that one cannot estimate the postpandemic relationship very precisely. This issue limits the utility of comparing coefficients before and after the break.

20 These sectors accounted for 44.5 percent of employment at the beginning of the period.

21 These sectors accounted for 44.6 percent of employment at the beginning of the period.

22 Kim Parker and Juliana Menasce Horowitz, “Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected” (Washington, DC: Pew Research Center, March 9, 2022), https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2022/03/09/majority-of-workers-who-quit-a-job-in-2021-cite-low-pay-no-opportunities-for-advancement-feeling-disrespected/ .

23 For some analysis along demographic lines, see Bart Hobijn, “‘Great Resignations’ are common during fast recoveries,” FRBSF Economic Letter (Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, April 4, 2022), https://www.frbsf.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/el2022-08.pdf .

Maury Gittleman [email protected]

Maury Gittleman is a research economist in the Office of Compensation and Working Conditions, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job openings and quits reach record highs in 2021, layoffs and discharges fall to record lows , Monthly Labor Review , June 2022.

As the COVID-19 pandemic affects the nation, hires and turnover reach record highs in 2020 , Monthly Labor Review , June 2021.

Labor turnover in manufacturing: the survey in retrospect , Monthly Labor Review , June 1982.

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The Great Resignation: How employers drove workers to quit

(Credit: Getty Images)

As we head into 2022, Worklife is running our best, most insightful and most essential stories from 2021. When you’re done with this article, check out our full list of the year’s top stories . 

When the pandemic began, Melissa Villareal was teaching history to middle schoolers at a private school in a wealthy California neighborhood. It was a job and a field she loved. Now, just over a year later, she’s left teaching entirely, to work in industrial design at a large beauty company.

People like Villareal are leaving their jobs – or thinking about it – in droves. A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year, and a study from HR software company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year . In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs , according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record.

There are a number of reasons people are seeking a change, in what some economists have dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. For some workers, the pandemic precipitated a shift in priorities, encouraging them to pursue a ‘dream job’, or transition to being a stay-at-home parent. But for many, many others, the decision to leave came as a result of the way their employer treated them during the pandemic. 

That was the case for Villareal, who found herself back in the classroom after only a short closure. (In the US, private schools, governed by different rules, were able to return to in-person learning much sooner than public schools.) Villareal was uncomfortable about her safety, and saw her stress and workload spike when she was juggling both in-person and remote learners concurrently. She felt her concerns weren’t being addressed, or even heard.

Ultimately, Villareal decided she’d rather quit and start over in a totally new industry than remain in a job where she felt she was being under-valued and unheard. It was a tough choice, she says, because “there’s guilt as a teacher. You don’t want to leave the students”. Still, Villareal continues, “it became so clear that this isn’t about my health, the health of the kids or the mental wellbeing of anybody. It’s a business and it’s about money. The pandemic ripped that veil from my eyes.”

Workers are opting to leave unsupportive employers and transition to jobs in which they feel like they have better resources and are more cared for (Credit: Getty Images)

Workers are opting to leave unsupportive employers and transition to jobs in which they feel like they have better resources and are more cared for (Credit: Getty Images)

A predictable response

Foremost, workers are taking decisions to leave based on how their employers treated them – or didn’t treat them ­– during the pandemic. Ultimately, workers stayed at companies that offered support, and darted from those that didn’t.

Workers who, pre-pandemic, may already been teetering on the edge of quitting companies with existing poor company culture saw themselves pushed to a breaking point. That’s because, as evidenced by a recent Stanford study, many of these companies with bad environments doubled-down on decisions that didn’t support workers, such as layoffs (while, conversely, companies that had good culture tended to treat employees well). This drove out already disgruntled workers who survived the layoffs, but could plainly see they were working in unsupportive environments.

And although workers have always cared about the environments in which they work, the pandemic added an entirely new dimension: an increased willingness to act, says Alison Omens, chief strategy officer of JUST Capital, the research firm that collected much of the data for the study.

“ Our data over the years has always shown that the thing people care about most is how companies treat their employees,” says Omens. That’s measured by multiple metrics, she adds, including wages, benefits and security, opportunities for advancement, safety and commitment to equity.

The early days of the pandemic reminded us that people are not machines – Alison Omens

In the wake of the pandemic, “the intensity has increased in terms of that expectation; people are expecting more from companies. The early days of the pandemic reminded us that people are not machines”, says Omens. “If you’re worried about your kids, about your health, financial insecurity and covering your bills, and all the things that come with being human, you’re less likely to be productive. And we were all worried about those things.”

Workers expected their employers to make moves to help alleviate, or at least acknowledge, those concerns – and companies that failed to do so have suffered. The Personio study also showed that more than half of the respondents who were planning to quit wanted to do so because of a reduction in benefits, a worsening work-life balance or a toxic workplace culture .

“For almost everyone,” says Ross Seychell, chief people officer at Personio, “the pandemic put an acute focus on… how has this company I’ve given a lot to handled me or my health or happiness during this time?” Seychell says many workers considering that question are finding a lack of satisfying answers. “I’m hearing it a lot: ‘I’m going to go somewhere I’m valued’.” 

An across-the-board exodus

The mass departure is happening at all levels of work, and is especially evident in service and retail jobs.

“Many of the stories have tended to focus on white collar jobs, but the biggest trends are really around traditionally low-wage roles and essential workers,” says Omens. “That’s a really interesting element of this.”

In fact, the American retail sector has seen more recent resignations than any other industry. Just fewer than 650,000 retail workers quit in the month of April alone, according to data from the Labor Department. 

During the pandemic, many essential, often low-paid workers, burned out after employers treated them poorly – and they quit (Credit: Getty Images)

During the pandemic, many essential, often low-paid workers, burned out after employers treated them poorly – and they quit (Credit: Getty Images)

Throughout the pandemic, essential workers – often in lower paid positions – have borne the brunt of employers’ decisions. Many were working longer hours on smaller staffs, in positions that required interaction with the public with little to no safety measures put in place by the company and, at least in the US, no guarantee of paid sick leave. It quickly burnt workers out.

Now, major retailers are scrambling to fill open positions, and finding it difficult to get enough new, willing workers in the door. Companies including Target and Best Buy have raised wages, while McDonald’s and Amazon are offering hiring bonuses ranging from $200 to $1,000. Still, a survey by executive search firm Korn Ferry found that 94% of retailers are having trouble filling empty roles .

Part of the problem, says Omens, is that while financial incentives are a start, a major shift in priorities means it’s not just about the money. Many retail and service workers are departing in favour of entry-level positions elsewhere – in warehouses or offices, for instance – that actually pay less, but offer more benefits, upward mobility and compassion. With employers across the board looking for new hires, many have found it’s easy to find another job and make the transition.

“We ask people would they take a pay cut to work for a company that aligns with their values,” she adds, “and across the board, people say yes.”

A lasting change?  

Could this Great Resignation bring about meaningful, long-term change to workplace culture and the way companies invest in their employees?

Omens believes the answer is yes. The change was happening before the pandemic, she says, with a “real increase in what people are looking for in terms of their expectations of CEOs and companies”.

Just fewer than 650,000 American retail workers quit in the month of April alone

And the pandemic shifted that existing feeling into overdrive – even in the first few weeks. In late March 2020, billionaire entrepreneur and investor Mark Cuban appeared on a CNBC special titled Markets in Turmoil, and warned companies not to force employees back to work too soon . “How companies respond to that very question is going to define their brand for decades,” he said. “If you rushed in and somebody got sick, you were that company. If you didn’t take care of your employees or stakeholders and put them first, you were that company.” For many employees, cautioned Cuban, “that’s going to be unforgiveable”.

Now, says Seychell, that’s proving true. For both people inside companies as well as those just entering the job market, how a company treated its people over the last year and a half will determine the course of the future.

It’s become compulsory for companies to make serious investments in their employees’ wages, opportunities, and overall wellbeing, if they weren’t doing so already, says Seychell, if for no other reason than it’s simply good for business.

“When there’s a lot of people moving, that costs companies in terms of turnover and lost productivity,” he says. “It takes six to nine months to onboard someone to be fully effective. Companies that lose a lot of their workforce are going to struggle with this over the next 12 to 16 months, and maybe much longer. Companies that don’t invest in their people will fall behind.”

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Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected.

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The COVID-19 pandemic set off nearly unprecedented churn in the U.S. labor market. Widespread job losses in the early months of the pandemic gave way to tight labor markets in 2021, driven in part by what’s come to be known as the Great Resignation . The nation’s “quit rate” reached a 20-year high last November.

A bar chart showing the top reasons why U.S. workers left a job in 2021: Low pay, no advancement opportunities

A new Pew Research Center survey finds that low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year. The survey also finds that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility.

Majorities of workers who quit a job in 2021 say low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) were reasons why they quit, according to the Feb. 7-13 survey. At least a third say each of these were major reasons why they left.  

Roughly half say child care issues were a reason they quit a job (48% among those with a child younger than 18 in the household). A similar share point to a lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours (45%) or not having good benefits such as health insurance and paid time off (43%). Roughly a quarter say each of these was a major reason.

Pew Research Center conducted this analysis to better understand the experiences of Americans who quit a job in 2021. This analysis is based on 6,627 non-retired U.S. adults, including 965 who say they left a job by choice last year. The data was collected as a part of a larger survey conducted Feb. 7-13, 2022. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way, nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

About four-in-ten adults who quit a job last year (39%) say a reason was that they were working too many hours, while three-in-ten cite working too few hours. About a third (35%) cite wanting to relocate to a different area, while relatively few (18%) cite their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as a reason.

When asked separately whether their reasons for quitting a job were related to the coronavirus outbreak, 31% say they were. Those without a four-year college degree (34%) are more likely than those with a bachelor’s degree or more education (21%) to say the pandemic played a role in their decision.

For the most part, men and women offer similar reasons for having quit a job in the past year. But there are significant differences by educational attainment.

A chart showing that the reasons for quitting a job in 2021 vary by education

Among adults who quit a job in 2021, those without a four-year college degree are more likely than those with at least a bachelor’s degree to point to several reasons. These include not having enough flexibility to decide when they put in their hours (49% of non-college graduates vs. 34% of college graduates), having to work too few hours (35% vs. 17%) and their employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine (21% vs. 8%).

There are also notable differences by race and ethnicity. Non-White adults who quit a job last year are more likely than their White counterparts to say the reasons include not having enough flexibility (52% vs. 38%), wanting to relocate to a different area (41% vs. 30%), working too few hours (37% vs. 24%) or their employer requiring that they have a COVID-19 vaccine (27% vs. 10%). The non-White category includes those who identify as Black, Asian, Hispanic, some other race or multiple races. These groups could not be analyzed separately due to sample size limitations.

Many of those who switched jobs see improvements

A majority of those who quit a job in 2021 and are not retired say they are now employed, either full-time (55%) or part-time (23%). Of those, 61% say it was at least somewhat easy for them to find their current job, with 33% saying it was very easy. One-in-five say it was very or somewhat difficult, and 19% say it was neither easy nor difficult.

For the most part, workers who quit a job last year and are now employed somewhere else see their current work situation as an improvement over their most recent job. At least half of these workers say that compared with their last job, they are now earning more money (56%), have more opportunities for advancement (53%), have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%) and have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours (50%).

Still, sizable shares say things are either worse or unchanged in these areas compared with their last job. Fewer than half of workers who quit a job last year (42%) say they now have better benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off, while a similar share (36%) says it’s about the same. About one-in-five (22%) now say their current benefits are worse than at their last job.

A bar chart showing that college graduates who quit a job are more likely than those with less education to say they’re now earning more, have more opportunities for advancement

College graduates are more likely than those with less education to say that compared with their last job, they are now earning more (66% vs. 51%) and have more opportunities for advancement (63% vs. 49%). In turn, those with less education are more likely than college graduates to say they are earning less in their current job (27% vs. 16%) and that they have fewer opportunities for advancement (18% vs. 9%).

Employed men and women who quit a job in 2021 offer similar assessments of how their current job compares with their last one. One notable exception is when it comes to balancing work and family responsibilities: Six-in-ten men say their current job makes it easier for them to balance work and family – higher than the share of women who say the same (48%).

Some 53% of employed adults who quit a job in 2021 say they have changed their field of work or occupation at some point in the past year. Workers younger than age 30 and those without a postgraduate degree are especially likely to say they have made this type of change.

Younger adults and those with lower incomes were more likely to quit a job in 2021

A bar chart showing that about a quarter of adults with lower incomes say they quit a job in 2021

Overall, about one-in-five non-retired U.S. adults (19%) – including similar shares of men (18%) and women (20%) – say they quit a job at some point in 2021, meaning they left by choice and not because they were fired, laid off or because a temporary job had ended.

Adults younger than 30 are far more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year: 37% of young adults say they did this, compared with 17% of those ages 30 to 49, 9% of those ages 50 to 64 and 5% of those ages 65 and older.

Experiences also vary by income, education, race and ethnicity. About a quarter of adults with lower incomes (24%) say they quit a job in 2021, compared with 18% of middle-income adults and 11% of those with upper incomes.

Across educational attainment, those with a postgraduate degree are the least likely to say they quit a job at some point in 2021: 13% say this, compared with 17% of those with a bachelor’s degree, 20% of those with some college and 22% of those with a high school diploma or less education.  

About a quarter of non-retired Hispanic and Asian adults (24% each) report quitting a job last year; 18% of Black adults and 17% of White adults say the same.

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.

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Two Years Into the Pandemic, Americans Inch Closer to a New Normal

Covid-19 pandemic continues to reshape work in america, the self-employed are back at work in pre-covid-19 numbers, but their businesses have smaller payrolls, despite the pandemic, wage growth held firm for most u.s. workers, with little effect on inequality, covid-19 pandemic saw an increase in the share of u.s. mothers who would prefer not to work for pay, most popular.

About Pew Research Center Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about the issues, attitudes and trends shaping the world. It conducts public opinion polling, demographic research, media content analysis and other empirical social science research. Pew Research Center does not take policy positions. It is a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts .

What the Conversation Around the “Great Resignation” Leaves Out

You can’t talk about labor without talking about care work.

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While her high school classmates joined clubs, Jennifer Lagemann, 23, joined the ranks of unpaid caretakers. She lived with her grandmother, mother, and aunt. They immigrated to America from Vietnam in 1992. When Lagemann’s grandmother had a stroke, her family couldn’t find out what care her grandmother was eligible to receive. Lagemann says that they “didn’t know where to go. We didn’t have existing knowledge of what was available.” If they had known how to navigate America’s Byzantine benefits system, they would have discovered that not much was available. Instead, they relied on one another. Her mother and aunt worked outside the home, and Lagemann rushed home every day after school to care for her grandmother.

Lagemann’s care work continued into adulthood. She worked as an administrator at a home-care agency where she was overwhelmed by “so much red tape and so much bureaucracy. I saw so many people who needed more care than they were eligible for.” In March 2020, a week after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Covid-19 outbreak a pandemic, Lagemann’s work hours were cut in half. Her bills remained the same. She found a low-wage weekend certified nursing assistant (CNA) job at a nursing home an hour from where she lived.

The nursing home where Lagemann worked was severely understaffed like many nursing homes during the first wave of Covid. She was one of three CNAs. Lagemann was left alone with patients made aggressive by dementia. She worked through unpaid meal breaks, which were still deducted from her paycheck. Only four foot 11, she was expected to move patients who required mobility tools like Hoyer lifts on her own. After a final dangerous interaction with a patient, she told her supervisor she had to leave. She passed an unattended senior sitting in a wheelchair. He was wearing a WWII veteran’s hat. He smiled at her and yelled, “Have a nice day!” She started crying. She got into her car, drove away, and didn’t go back.

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.css-1u9apw1{color:#242424;font-family:Didot,Didot-fallback,Georgia,Times,serif;font-size:2rem;letter-spacing:-0.04rem;line-height:1.2;margin:0rem;}@media(min-width: 48rem){.css-1u9apw1{font-size:2rem;line-height:1.2;}}@media(min-width: 64rem){.css-1u9apw1{font-size:2rem;line-height:1.2;}}.css-1u9apw1 b,.css-1u9apw1 strong{font-family:inherit;font-weight:bold;}.css-1u9apw1 em,.css-1u9apw1 i{font-family:inherit;font-style:italic;} The lack of care for care workers has led to an ongoing labor shortage.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, one in five health care workers have left their job. They’ve been joined in leaving by a historic number of low-wage workers in other industries. Anthony Klotz, a professor at Texas A&M University, predicted this wave of quits, calling it the Great Resignation. When a title is written before the story, it’s always going to drive the narrative. Most analyses of the Great Resignation begin with the premise that it is a trend about worker choice. There’s not a lot of agreement about what their choices mean. Some say the Great Resignation proves the market works for workers, as they are choosing to leave poorly paying jobs for better-paying jobs —an argument that is strictly true but often neglects to mention that those better-paying jobs still pay well below a living wage . Others argue the high number of quits simply proves a high level of laziness. In a recent TINYpulse survey, one in five executives agreed with the statement “No one wants to work”—a statement belied by the fact that most workers are not dropping out of the labor force.

The people who left the workforce often cite unpaid care work as the reason for quitting paid work. Others blame care scarcity in America. A childcare-worker labor shortage means fewer parents, especially mothers, at work. It’s difficult to chalk the care-worker shortage up to workers’ having more choices. Most childcare workers are not paid enough to pay for their own children’s childcare . What choice is there in poverty?

None of those narratives tell Lagemann’s story. She didn’t have a higher-paying job lined up when she fled the nursing facility. She’d been so determined to keep working, she took a second job at a distant nursing facility. And her story isn’t really about care scarcity. Care is the one thing that’s abundant in Lagemann’s story. Her mother and aunt cared. Her grandmother cared. Lagemann certainly cared. And the man who shouted after her as she left the nursing home cared. Care isn’t scarce in her story; it is under pressure from capitalism’s exploitation.

When a title is written before the story, it’s always going to drive the narrative.

The pandemic was a sharp tug at an already unraveling care crisis. Lagemann now works as a senior-care writer and advocate. When I ask her what care work in America needs, she sighs. “Care needs change so quickly,” she says. “A lot of it has to happen at a policy level. But politicians don’t want to lead on a platform of caregiving.”

With a lack of politicians willing to lead, caretakers are left to fall. Caretakers in America are overwhelmingly women. During the pandemic, they left the workforce and have not returned. It’s a Great Caretaker Resignation. It feels new, but it’s not. The Great Caretaker Resignation has been happening for 20 years. Women’s labor-force participation peaked in 1999 at 60 percent . Women between the ages of 25 and 54, “the mother years,” have “ participated in the labor force less since 1999 , ” with a participation rate drop of three percent between 2000 and 2015. But that doesn’t mean those women aren’t laboring. Caretakers who leave the labor force are not resigning from work because care work is work. They are counted as dropping out of the labor force because our economic system was designed to exclude care work so it can exploit it. Usually, we name unique forms of capitalism after their value creation hub: managerial capitalism, mass-production capitalism, financial capitalism. The dominant form of American capitalism should be named after its value- extraction hub: care work. Care-work capitalism captures value from care workers while disenfranchising them as stakeholders.

This is not some great secret. When politicians run on the need to recognize women’s care work, they’re acknowledging the disenfranchisement of care workers. When a politician stops paid-leave or universal-childcare legislation, they’re conceding the market’s right to care work. Senator Joe Manchin was defending care-work capitalism when he helped derail Build Back Better’s childcare and paid-leave proposals. He joins a long list of defenders.

With a lack of politicians willing to lead, caretakers are left to fall.

In 1971, Congress passed the Comprehensive Child Development Act. The legislation provided federally subsidized childcare, with the poorest households receiving care for free. The bill had bipartisan support, a particularly jarring fact in the wake of Build Back Better failure. Former president Richard Nixon vetoed the bill on the advice of White House aide Pat Buchanan. Buchanan wrote the ve to , which framed subsidized childcare as the first toddling step to communism. In 1975, a similar bill was knocked down by Christian fundamentalists who shared flyers in church about the childcare-to-communism pipeline. Buchanan helped make the defense of care-work capitalism a conservative Christian’s duty, but his veto was a variation on an old theme.

Since the Industrial Revolution, the first American capitalists created a narrative we still live in today. Nineteenth-century men divided the home from the economy. They created a domestic sphere, a walled-off space where women were always laboring but never productive.

Unpaid care work is still held in a sphere apart from the American production boundary. It is not included in GDP. If we included the unpaid production that takes place in the home and the community to our yearly gross domestic product, researchers say it would grow by at least 23 percent , or more than $4 trillion. In March 2020, The New York Times reported, “If American women earned minimum wage for the unpaid work they do around the house and caring for relatives, they would have made $1.5 trillion” in 2019. That number can only have gone up since the pandemic started. The strain put on care work during the pandemic is a feature of capitalism, not a bug. Economists won’t value social reproduction, because they acknowledge the market’s rights to care work. This is a commons problem.

Capitalism needs care work, but it can’t value it.

The tragedy of the commons is a modern economic theory that says a resource held in common will be exhausted by inefficient use and a lack of innovation. Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize in economics for her work disproving the theory. She demonstrated that communities always have and still can manage common finite resources sustainably. We don’t seem to cite her much in America.

Care work is an abundant resource managed by social systems. Caretakers are commoners doing common work. Care is abundant, but like many resources right now, it is being strained by markets. Care needs keeping if we are all going to be sustained by it. The problem is that capitalism has no interest in keeping things it cannot own. When confronted with a commons, capitalism tries to privatize it.

Kristi Johns never planned to stay home full time with her kids. She'd just completed her doctorate in education while she was a visiting scholar at Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She was starting a new job when the pandemic hit. Her job evaporated, and her high-risk child’s need for isolation became concrete. Her two children have been remote schooling since March 2020. She’s taken on an unpaid postdoc position so she can keep the school affiliation that gives her access to materials for her research. In between managing remote school days, Johns studies the way higher education fails caregivers. “Take business schools: They need to be the flagship of change we want to see in industry, but if they are harmful to caregivers, if they only cater to the generationally wealthy, they’ll filter out anyone who has the experience to make change,” she says. She saw how brutal that filtering out could be in her husband’s MBA program.

Though there were a proportionate number of fathers in the program, mothers were severely underrepresented. Business schools are built on top of the structurally subordinate domestic sphere. One woman entered the program with a three-month-old child. Without a partner to help with childcare, she couldn’t attend the constant mandatory evening events. Just a month into the program, the woman was on the verge of being forced out of it. When her baby was four months old, grandparents took over caretaking duties. They lived a plane ride away, and the mother visited as often as she could. A tragedy of the privatization of the commons.

Care needs keeping if we are all going to be sustained by it.

There are ways to protect the care commons. All of them are universal. A universal basic income could provide unconditional security for those who care and need care. Universal health care would acknowledge everyone qualifies for care. Universal paid leave would allow parents to care for babies. Universal childcare would allow parents to do work outside of care work. Every solution to the care crisis requires us to move to more common ground.

Some people are trying to reinforce the borders around the domestic sphere instead. Blake Masters, COO of Thiel Capital, is running for senate on a platform of returning America to an economy where a family can be supported by a single income. It would only be a return for some. A one-wage home where the domestic sphere is firmly subordinate depends on the disenfranchisement of paid and unpaid care workers. When the domestic sphere was first enclosed, middle- and upper-income white women overwhelmingly stayed home. This arrangement depended on the underpaid labor of lower-income women. Poor, single white women entered the labor force at a greater rate than ever before by the end of the 19th century. Single and unmarried Black women were overwhelmingly overrepresented in the labor force . In the 1800s, married Black women were more likely to be in dual-income houses because of labor market discrimination against Black men.

Care work may build capitalism’s heaven, but it’s never going to inherit it.

In care-work capitalism, dual-income homes are still often dependent on disenfranchisement. While white feminists lean in, many outsource care work without ensuring care rights. The global care chain follows the flow of care workers from poor countries to wealthy countries. Care workers moved by the global care chain are usually underpaid and sometimes abused. They have little recourse. They are migrants in foreign countries where they have no claim to citizen’s rights. This growing trend of care extractivism removes the care worker from their environment and removes rights from the care worker.

Care work may build capitalism’s heaven, but it’s never going to inherit it. We’ve entered an era of renewed voter-suppression laws. Labor rights and voting rights cannot be separated. So what would it look like to put care work first?

While the push for better wages and work protections must continue, some scholars critique the assumption that waged work should be tied to security. In their paper, “ Work in the Intersections: A Black Feminist Disability Framework ,” Moya Bailey and Izetta Autumn Mobley ask, “How might we restructure society itself if we could meet our needs without working jobs, however dignified and humane they might become?” The American idea of security being tied to a wage is ableist. It’s also anti-care. Nina Banks , a professor of economics at Bucknell University, writes that “discriminatory public policies have reinforced the view of Black women as workers rather than as mothers.” A CEPR demographic profile of frontline workers shows that childcare workers are disproportionately Black women. Black women are still expected to perform underpaid care work for other people’s children, while a devaluation of Black motherhood leads to higher Black maternal mortality rates.

Jesi Taylor, a grad student and waste educator, knows the cost of Black motherhood in America while chronically ill. They care for their child while working with organizers to improve their community. Money is always tight. They say they feel guilty when they have to rest. They say, “I genuinely love the work I do, thankfully, but I still struggle to survive and thrive. I’ve never had a stable work-life balance before, and I won’t ever have that under the current conditions.”

Industrial capitalists didn’t wait for the old world to pass away before beginning their new one. Maybe we don’t have to wait either. At the end of my interview with Taylor, they share the prologue required for worlds created by and through care. It’s the beginning of a story I’d like to live in.

“More than anything else, I’m committed to creating and building and collaborating and healing and learning with the people and beings I share this planet with. The majority of us are deprived of rest. The majority of us are being exploited. The majority of us have no choice but to work for employers who exploit us. The pandemic made that clear. But it also shed light on the importance of coming together to imagine new worlds, new ways of being. That’s where my heart is.”

Meg Conley is a writer whose work has appeard in Slate , The Guardian, and GEN Mag.

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How Joining the Great Resignation Helped Me Tackle My Imposter Syndrome

Hot jobs on the muse.

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Days after our talk, Amanda’s* words reverberated in my head. “Sara* doesn’t think you try with your articles. But I don’t think that. I said, ‘Siobhan does try!’” Amanda, my editor in a former job where I’d reported on social justice issues for two years, told me.

Initially, I thought Amanda had stood up for me. But digesting the conversation, I realized that the seemingly nice words hid manipulation. She was the “hero” in the story and I was forced to feel grateful to her for rescuing my dignity. Even if her intention wasn’t to be hurtful, why would she share such unnecessary and cruel information? Was it a thoughtless oversight by an overworked editor or was she intentionally trying to undermine my confidence?

Amanda was filling in for my main editor, Natalie*, who was out on maternity leave. With Natalie, I’d felt micromanaged, faced excruciatingly drawn-out edits that made me believe my work was subpar, and rarely heard any positive feedback from her despite receiving praise from different editors at that job and other media outlets. So I’d jumped at the chance to work with Amanda, who’d previously encouraged me to grow as a new reporter and impressed me with her story ideas and editorial direction. But after a good start to our working relationship, she transformed into the evil stepmother of my workplace nightmare.

I came to dread interactions with her, as she constantly reminded me I needed to develop my “critical-thinking skills” and told me my stories should be 98% perfect before turning them in. On one occasion, I spent 11 hours working on a story only to be berated over Slack about how it “wasn’t in the condition she expected” when I turned it in. That day, I closed my computer screen blurry-eyed and defeated and raced to meet a couple of friends. I needed comfort and, though I tried to keep my composure, I ended up crying in my best friend’s arms outside one of our favorite restaurants.

A funny thing happened after I left. My confidence soared—and continues to.

While imposter syndrome has haunted me for years, those debilitating work experiences fed my insecurities until they exploded during the pandemic. When I achieved something noteworthy, when higher-ups gave me a shout-out for my good work, or when someone congratulated me on an accomplishment, like a well-conducted interview, a voice in the back of my brain whispered snidely, “You don’t actually deserve that.” And whenever I got yet another biting admonition from an editor, which came to feel inevitable, it just confirmed my fears that I was inadequate.

For about a year, I dreaded leaving my bed on work days and fantasized about what it would be like if I wasn’t around. While I never had a plan to end my life, it was enough of a wake-up call for me that my mind had begun to spiral in this upsetting direction. Imposter syndrome isn’t supposed to be deadly but, in this case, it had nudged me onto a terrifying path and I didn’t want to reach its final destination.

By the time I sought refuge in my friend’s arms, almost a year and a half after the pandemic began, I’d reached my breaking point . I can’t downplay the role of privilege (in the form of familial support and savings), but I also had a rising suspicion that I had no choice but to get out or else irrevocably shatter my mental health—or much worse. Not too long after that day I sobbed on the sidewalk, I took a mental health leave . In October 2021, I quit my job and joined the millions during the pandemic who’ve also resigned .

That may seem contradictory, as people’s mental health often takes a dramatic hit when they’re unemployed, but my own resignation pushed me in the opposite direction. And while I’m not immune to equating my sense of worth with my professional success, my work environment had convinced me I had no value.

About two months after I went on mental health leave, I confessed as much on Twitter and described the good my leave did, including helping me realize I had to quit. People responded to my status in a way I didn’t expect. Many revealed their own mental health hardships and, incredibly, thanked me for disclosing my own. As a once-again freelance writer, I even received a few emails from editors and companies asking me to do projects for them. Those messages blew my mind as someone who, for years, has believed my work wasn’t valuable.

But it wasn’t, and still isn’t, all smooth sailing. More like jagged and unpredictable. Some days, I took time to just be and, for the most part, not judge myself on my productivity (or lack thereof). Other days, I’d sit down to write and feel panic and anxiety take over. “Healing doesn’t feel wonderful all the time,” says Dr. Andrea Salazar-Nuñez, a Chicana/Mexican-American psychologist who has her own practice —and who experienced imposter syndrome as a first-generation college student and, to an extent, still does. “If you think about it as a cut, if you ignore it for a long time it gets infected and then you finally get help, they have to clean it out and that’s going to hurt. And then they mend it and there’s still going to be pain as it heals but eventually it’ll be like a scar,” never completely faded away, but in some lights almost imperceptible.

‘We don’t interrogate enough where these norms or expectations come from.’ But we need to be asking ourselves, ‘Where did I pick this up?’

I finally had the space to confront the feelings that had coalesced over the past two years while merely surviving in a toxic work environment . Not only that, but I had the time to recognize my value outside of work. I remembered I was a good friend, daughter, sister, and niece. And I finally started to question why I’d acquiesced to the lie that I had no worth in the first place.

Imposter syndrome is tricky like that. While you may have persuaded yourself that you’re the source of your self-doubts, imposter syndrome doesn’t happen in a vacuum. You don’t come barreling out of the womb with reservations about your worth or abilities. Rather, there are external factors—say, a boss who takes out their insecurities on you, or a workplace that underpays women and people of color—that stack up over the years and pit you against yourself. I finally accepted the truth that I hadn’t created imposter syndrome for myself. I was getting real signals from my environment that made me feel like I wasn’t good enough—and some of them had to do with the gender and racial inequities our society perpetuates, among others.

But what truly tipped the scales was learning that I was far from the only one being mistreated and gaslighted at my old job. For a long time, I believed I was the problem. But when I realized that subtle—and sometimes overt— bullying was largely my workplace’s modus operandi, the proverbial door was blasted off its hinges. That discovery has helped me let go of unrealistic standards and given me permission to show the world the real me. I slowly started to let go of the fear of making a mistake, no matter how little, like a typo, and stopped trying to mold myself to fit others’ expectations.

Salazar-Nuñez encouraged me to question why I think I’m not good enough. As a woman of color, like myself, she links values like perfectionism to white supremacy. “We don’t interrogate enough where these norms or expectations come from,” she says. But we need to be asking ourselves, “Where did I pick this up from?”

Growing up in majority-white settings contributed heavily to my feelings of imposter syndrome. As a child, I believed white people were perfect, even when they made mistakes. It also meant that as someone who isn’t white, no matter what I achieved I’d always be at a deficit. While it may sound illogical, this conditioning didn’t materialize out of thin air. The unspoken logic was planted and reinforced over and over again, like when I saw my darker-skinned sisters being followed around by a local candy shop owner almost every time we visited as kids while our white counterparts always seemed to be left to peruse freely.

While I doubt my imposter syndrome will ever completely disappear, the more time passes, the more stable I feel in my abilities.

That belief that originated in childhood—and had me trying to color my skin white with crayons when I was eight years old—also materialized in my adult life. At my old job, there were zero women of color in upper management. While my boss was a woman of color, white men and women were largely calling the shots. And from where I sat, it resulted in an environment that constantly made me question my work and left me feeling like I fell short no matter what I did.

Since quitting my job, I’ve surrounded myself with people who are encouraging—whether IRL or online. Salazar-Nuñez has done a similar thing, cultivating a healthy environment with like-minded therapists to buffer her feelings of imposter syndrome.

What’s also helped is processing the trauma I’ve accumulated from my old job with loved ones. Speaking it out loud with people I trust has dulled a lot of the pain and blunted my learned instinct to react to criticism of my work with suspicion. Instead of assuming feedback is a surreptitious strategy to sabotage me, I take a few deep breaths to calm my racing heartbeat and try to absorb the information with an open mind. “After we’ve had a traumatic experience, we’re still going to react reflexively from a protective stance,” Salazar-Nuñez told me. “You almost have to respect how you respond because that helped you survive.” I know why I developed these instincts. And it’ll probably take repeated efforts, but I hope to continue to immerse myself in environments where they’re unnecessary, so that I can eventually release them.

In my post-quitting life, I feel more relaxed and ready to tackle new challenges. While I doubt my imposter syndrome will ever completely disappear, the more time passes, the more stable I feel in my abilities. This doesn’t mean there haven’t been situations that shake my confidence. But no longer do they convince me I’m not good enough.

*Names have been changed.

great resignation essay


Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?

great resignation essay

An analysis of 9 million global employee records sheds light on key trends around which employees are most likely to quit.

The last several months have seen a tidal wave of resignations, in the U.S. and around the world. What can employers do to combat what’s being called the Great Resignation? The author shares several key insights from an in-depth analysis of more than 9 million employee records at 4,000 global companies, and offers a three-step plan to help employers take a more data-driven approach to retention: First, employers should quantify both the problem and its impact on key business metrics. Next, they should identify the root causes that are driving workers to resign. Finally, organizations should implement targeted retention campaigns designed to address the specific issues that they struggle with the most.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics,  4 million Americans  quit their jobs in July 2021. Resignations peaked in April and have remained abnormally high for the last several months, with a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs at the end of July. How can employers retain people in the face of this tidal wave of resignations?

Addressing the root causes of these staggering statistics starts with better understanding them. To explore exactly who has been driving this recent shift, my team and I conducted an in-depth analysis of more than 9 million employee records from more than 4,000 companies. This global dataset included employees from a wide variety of industries, functions, and levels of experience, and it revealed two key trends:

1. Resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees.

Employees between 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. While turnover is typically highest among younger employees, our study found that over the last year, resignations actually decreased for workers in the 20 to 25 age range (likely due to a combination of their greater financial uncertainty and reduced demand for entry-level workers). Interestingly, resignation rates also fell for those in the 60 to 70 age group, while employees in the 25 to 30 and 45+ age groups experienced slightly higher resignation rates than in 2020 (but not as significant an increase as that of the 30-45 group).

There are a few factors that can help to explain why the increase in resignations has been largely driven by these mid-level employees. First, it’s possible that the shift to remote work has led employers to feel that hiring people with little experience would be riskier than usual, since new employees won’t have the benefit of in-person training and guidance. This would create greater demand for mid-career employees, thus giving them greater leverage in securing new positions.

It’s also possible that many of these mid-level employees may have delayed transitioning out of their roles due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, meaning that the boost we’ve seen over the last several months could be the result of more than a year’s worth of pent-up resignations.

And of course, many of these workers may have simply reached a breaking point after months and months of high workloads, hiring freezes, and other pressures, causing them to rethink their work and life goals.

2. Resignations are highest in the tech and health care industries.

We also identified dramatic differences in turnover rates between companies in different industries. While resignations actually decreased slightly in industries such as manufacturing and finance, 3.6% more health care employees quit their jobs than in the previous year, and in tech, resignations increased by 4.5%. In general, we found that resignation rates were higher among employees who worked in fields that had experienced extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, likely leading to increased workloads and burnout.

Employers Must Take a Data-Driven Approach to Improving Retention

These trends highlight the importance of taking a data-driven approach to determining not just how many people are quitting, but who exactly has the highest turnover risk, why people are leaving, and what can be done to prevent it. The details will look different in every organization, but there are three steps that can help any employer more effectively leverage data to improve employee retention:

1. Quantify the problem.

Before you can determine the underlying causes of turnover at your organization, it’s critical to quantify both the scope of the problem and its impact. First, calculate your retention rate using the following formula:

Number of Separations per Year ÷ Average Total Number of Employees = Turnover Rate

You can use similar formulas to identify how much of your turnover is coming from voluntary resignations, versus from layoffs or firings. This will help you gain visibility around exactly where your retention problem is coming from.

Next, determine the impact of resignations on key business metrics. When employees leave an organization, remaining teams often find themselves without key skillsets or resources, negatively impacting everything from quality of work and time-to-completion to bottom-line revenue. It’s important to track how increased turnover correlates with changes in other relevant metrics in order to get a full picture of the costs of resignations.

For example, a trucking company I worked with identified that what appeared to be a small increase in turnover due to a nationwide driver shortage was in fact costing them millions of dollars in hiring and training resources. Quantifying the problem both helped leaders get the internal buy-in necessary to address it, and informed decisions around what kind of retention interventions would be most effective.

2. Identify the root causes.

Once you’ve identified the scope of your retention problem, it’s time to conduct a detailed data analysis to determine what’s really causing your staff to leave. Ask yourself which factors could be driving higher resignation rates? Exploring metrics such as compensation, time between promotions, size of pay increases, tenure, performance, and training opportunities can help to identify trends and blind spots within your organization. You can also segment employees by categories such as location, function, and other demographics to better understand how work experiences and retention rates differ across distinct employee populations.

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The Great Resignation Doesn’t Have to Threaten Your DE&I Efforts

This analysis can help you identify not just which employees have the highest risk of resigning, but also which of these employees can likely be retained with targeted interventions. For example, after extensive analysis, the trucking company found that drivers who had less experience and a remote supervisor were much more likely to resign than more-experienced drivers and those receiving in-person support.

3. Develop tailored retention programs.

Now that you’ve identified the root causes of turnover at your organization, you can begin to create highly customized programs aimed at correcting the specific issues that your workplace struggles with most. For example, if you discover that people of color are leaving your organization at a higher rate than their white peers, a DEI-focused approach may be called for. If you find that time between promotions correlates strongly with high resignation rates, it may be time to rethink your advancement policies .

Importantly, you may discover through this process that a lack of effective data infrastructure is hampering your ability to make these sorts of data-driven decisions. One higher-level intervention that may be necessary before you can begin any sort of targeted campaign is to invest in an organized, user-friendly system for tracking and analyzing the metrics that will inform your retention efforts.

Adopting a truly data-driven retention strategy isn’t easy, but it’s worth the effort to do it right, especially in the current market. After implementing a targeted retention campaign based on a detailed analysis of key metrics, the trucking company I worked with saw a 10% reduction in driver resignations, even in the face of fierce competition from other employers. With greater visibility into both how serious your turnover problem really is, and the root causes that drive it, you’ll be empowered to attract top talent, reduce turnover costs, and ultimately build a more engaged and effective workforce.

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The incredibly simple reason behind the great resignation.

I’m quite sure you’ve seen the news.

NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 05: A help wanted sign is displayed in the window of a Brooklyn business on ... [+] October 5, 2018 in New York, United States. Newly released data by the Labor Department on Friday shows that US employers added 134,000 jobs last month. While this was below economists expectations of 185,00, it brought the unemployment rate down to 3.7 percent, the lowest since December 1969. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

After the summer’s finger-wagging about how “nobody wanted to work anymore,” allegedly because of extended unemployment insurance, states across the country started rolling benefits back. It didn’t force anyone back to work—ultimately, the numbers after that took effect were pretty anemic—but it did demonstrate that the problem wasn’t that they could get more money off the government. For further evidence, all we need do is look at what's being called the “ Great Resignation ” that's now sweeping the country.

I’ve seen, over and over, think pieces about why workers are quitting. The theories have been all over the place; I’ve seen straightfaced arguments that workers want more “dynamic” companies, or that they’re “redefining their relationship with employers,” or that “it’s a worker’s revolution,” which strikes me as wildly overstated at best. Let me confess to being a little baffled by this endless search for meaning in something as banal as quitting your job, as if there is some secret to be unlocked, some hidden lesson for employers to glean that can help them return to 2019, when precious jobs were fiercely guarded and unemployment was a sword over every worker’s head, a cudgel to “motivate” the team. The consensus, if there is one, seems to be that the mysterious and ineffable causes behind this phenomenon are just waiting for someone to fix them. Which treats this like a problem.

In the words of the immortal Cher Horowitz, as if . The cause is as simple as it can be, and all you need is one number: 3 million. That number is the difference between the number of open jobs, 10.4 million as of August, the last month we have data for, and 7.4 million , the number of unemployed workers. Put bluntly, there are far more open positions than people willing to work them, and have been for some time.

The confusion so much of the commentator class seems to evince as to what could possibly be driving the ever-increasing number of voluntary resignations depends entirely on an almost willful ignorance of market conditions. “They’re rethinking their relationship with employment” is all well and good, but it’s meaningless in a condition where workers lack the flexibility to do so. “They’re chasing hire wages” doesn’t say a single thing about why, of all times, they’re doing so now . “They want a better work-life balance” just restates the sentiment of workers for the whole postwar era.

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No, the reason is actually quite simple: employers must compete for workers because there are far more open slots than job applicants, and workers are smart enough to recognize that. Yes, they’re voting with their feet in favor of more flexible work hours, continued availability of remote work, higher wages, and better treatment, but the context that makes that possible, the basic calculus of supply and demand in the labor market, goes ignored. So let me fill you in.

Here’s what happened.

In mid-March 2020, the whole planet went into various forms of lockdown, companies started massive layoffs, and the economy contracted dramatically in ways we hadn’t seen in 90 years. Fast forward a bit over a year to Hot Vax Summer; movie theaters, bars, entertainment, and retail started to reopen in earnest thanks to a burst of seasonal optimism amidst blue skies and maskless neighbors with a band-aid on their shoulder, and restless civilians ventured out into the world for the first time since it all began. That fueled a massive, sudden surge in demand for goods and services unseen by millions who spent months locked in their homes. In turn, that fueled a concomitant surge in demand for workers to provide said goods and services, first in frontline customer-facing positions, and then a bit down the line, in corporate and administrative roles. 

Companies that laid off massive swathes of employees needed to scale up and scale up fast, so they went on a hiring spree, figuring people would flock to apply. But, alas, hesitancy over the virus remained, and a traumatized public proved reluctant to return to work until they were a little more confident they wouldn’t be risking their and their families’ health. That number is going down, but only in trickles; Hot Vax Summer lasted all of June before it instead became Scary Delta Summer, which pushed down the labor supply even more. As employers took to social media to complain that “nobody wants to work anymore,” their employ ees started sending out their resumes; if “nobody wants to work,” well, it stands to reason that people who do want to work are worth more. In other words, the only thing that happened is that workers proved able to recognize that they had genuine leverage for the first time in most of their careers. For the first time, the company needed them more than they needed the company.

It’s really that simple. Yes, really.

Three million more jobs than available workers; that has to be nails on a chalkboard to the corporate ear used to a very different reality. One need only look back at December of 2019 for the old normal; according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that month showed job openings of roughly 5.9 million , while the number of unemployed was roughly 5.8 million . For the worker on the ground back then, if they lost their job, the competition for the next one would be incredibly tight. And this was how employers liked it, because it kept wages down even as profits and productivity increased. It worked so well that wages were virtually stagnant for 40 years in terms of real dollars.

But then the pandemic came and changed everything; suddenly, the same employee would look around and see their peers getting hired for more money than they’ve ever made before; they see their bosses on TV complaining that they can’t get butts in seats without offering more money, effectively shouting “you could get paid more, and I’m not gonna do it!” They see a market that should value them instead of just treating labor as a fixed cost of doing business. Why wouldn’t they quit?

So why all the hand-wringing? Why the breathless editorials, the analyses of what has to be the least complicated part of the last couple of years? Are we this allergic to paying decent wages? Are we this horrified by workers pushing their advantage as if it’s a moral failing? Do we really have no way to conceptualize doing business that doesn’t involve stripping paychecks to the bone? Because, judging by the reaction to all of this, it sure seems that way.

If you want to keep your team, pay them what they’re worth. It is the opposite of complicated.

Liz Elting

CEOs might study Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand the rationale and efficacy of one possible antidote: create a culture of belonging built one high-belonging team at a time.

An antidote to the Great Resignation

An antidote to the Great Resignation

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Four steps senior executives can take today.

CEOs might study Maslow’s hierarchy of needs to understand the rationale and efficacy of one possible antidote: create a culture of belonging built one high-belonging team at a time. 

For decades, employees largely defined themselves through the lens of their work — what they did at their place of employment rather than why they did it. However, after 18 months of the pandemic, workers are redefining what’s important to them and making decisions accordingly. To succeed going forward, we urge CEOs to heed the shift in workers’ mindset and expectations, understand its root cause and transform their organizations.

Understanding the Great Resignation

On a macro level, the pandemic gave workers a chance to re-evaluate their lives, values, needs and circumstances. Many, to their surprise, were able to succeed in their jobs and experience greater purpose and meaning while working remotely. Those who hunkered down, grateful for a job through the crisis, are finally taking a breath and considering their options. Many are frayed, burned out from the endless workday. Others have discovered a work-life-home balance that they intend to keep even if they have to change jobs to do so. They believe that having more time and flexibility for family, hobbies and exercise is more than just a nice-to-have — it’s essential to enjoying a full, productive life. This sentiment, combined with the fact that competition for experienced workers has reached a fever pitch during the pandemic, 1 has inspired a mass exodus of millions of employees:

US workers have quit their jobs since April 2021.²

of employees across the globe and multiple industries are considering leaving their current job this year.³

This phenomenon is known as the Great Resignation, 4 and for savvy C-suite executives, it’s an opportunity to transform company culture, reimagine recruitment and retention strategies, and drive value for the long term.

Heeding the wake-up call

Many companies are responding with well-intended transactional fixes such as increased pay, more flexible hours and improved virtual collaboration technology. These transactional fixes do matter to employees, just less than employers think. 5  The top three reasons employees cite for quitting are: they do not feel valued by their organizations (54%) or their managers (52%) and do not feel a sense of belonging at work (51%). 6

In contrast to transactional fixes, employees largely seek cultural and relationship transformation. According to one survey, 9 out of 10 career professionals would sacrifice 23% of their future earnings — an average of $21,000 a year — for consistently meaningful work. 7 The study also found that employees value salary, benefits and company leadership but are demanding greater purpose, meaning and belonging in their work-life balance. This gap between what workers want and how employers are responding is causing a leadership crisis in an increasing number of industries.

These symptoms are a wake-up call for CEOs and their boards. COVID-19 broke the back of the old inherent employer-employee contract. The pressing challenge today is determining what is required to re-imagine that contract and create a new employee value proposition (EVP) that addresses (and possibly reverses) the symptoms of the Great Resignation.

Analyzing Maslow’s hierarchy of needs 

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who developed a hierarchy of needs to explain human motivation and behavior. His theory comprises a five-tier model of human needs in which needs lower down in the hierarchy must be satisfied before individuals can attend to needs higher up (see Figure 1).

great resignation essay

Before the pandemic, organizations’ EVPs generally satisfied the first two levels of Maslow’s hierarchy: in return for dedicating a large portion of their careers to a single organization, workers accepted a standard package of benefits that addressed (i) their level 1 physiological needs: food, clothing and health benefits and (ii) their level 2 safety needs: job security and a regular paycheck.

According to Maslow, workers, as humans, are intrinsically motivated to reach for more than just levels 1 and 2. We are programmed to also strive for levels 3, 4 and 5. Yet, most pre-pandemic organizational cultures and leadership styles failed to encourage or support their workers’ quest to feel they belong, are valued, and have the tools and training to reach for higher self-esteem.

Recent research supports Maslow’s conclusions. For example, social belonging is a fundamental human need, “hardwired” into human DNA. 8 When workers feel that they belong, benefits to employers include, among other things, better job performance, lower turnover risk and fewer sick days.

During the pandemic, workers were able to do their jobs virtually and experience more meaningful time with families; focus on hobbies; work out more; and reflect on what is most important. They had an epiphany that it’s possible to be a productive employee and satisfy need levels 1 through 4. This in-pandemic employee experience — juxtaposed with employers’ reticence to adjust to new employee expectations — created the gap that is the root cause of the Great Resignation.

Closing the gap

How do organizations close this gap? By understanding Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and evolving their operating models to better satisfy employees’ basic human needs. In so doing, they will improve retention and loyalty, while also improving engagement, innovation, productivity and performance. Below are four steps CEOs can take today to close the gap and reverse the Great Resignation:

By taking these four steps, CEOs can begin to address the human factors underlying the Great Resignation and its symptoms: increased employee attrition, stress, burnout and low morale.

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Demographic shifts and new technologies are changing how, why and where people work and the requirements and expectations of the workforce. To secure the skills they require, organizations need a new approach to attracting, developing and inspiring their workers.

References#Hide References

[1] “The 2021 Employment Market And What It Means For Recruitment,” Forbes website, https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbescommunicationscouncil/2021/08/04/the-2021-employment-market-and-what-it-means-for-recruitment/?sh=5177075c1ee2, accessed 20 September 2021.

[2] “Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey News Release,” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics website, https://www.bls.gov/news.release/jolts.htm, accessed 21 October 2021.

[3] “The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?,” Microsoft website, https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/worklab/work-trend-index/hybrid-work, accessed 21 October 2021.

[4] “The Great Resignation Is Here, and It's Real,” Inc website, https://www.inc.com/phillip-kane/the-great-resignation-is-here-its-real.html, accessed 20 September 2021.

[5] “‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours,” McKinsey website, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/people-and-organizational-performance/our-insights/great-attrition-or-great-attraction-the-choice-is-yours, accessed 25 October 2021.

[7] “Workers Value Meaning at Work; New Research from BetterUp Shows Just How Much They’re Willing to Pay for It,” BetterUp website, https://www.betterup.com/press/workers-value-meaning-at-work-new-research-from-betterup-shows-just-how-much-theyre-willing-to-pay-for-it, accessed 25 October 2021.

[8] “The Value of Belonging at Work,” Harvard Business Review website, https://hbr.org/2019/12/the-value-of-belonging-at-work, accessed 20 September 2021.

[9] “Stay or go? Can belonging drive retention?,” BetterUp website, https://www.betterup.com/blog/can-belonging-drive-retention, accessed 25 October 2021.

Establishing an organization-wide ecosystem of high-belonging teams lays the foundation for the workplace to become a positive contributing factor — rather than a hinderance — to every employee’s intrinsic, human quest to climb Maslow’s needs ladder. CEOs who are ready and willing to rethink why their organizations exist and how they operate when it comes to their most valuable resource will become more valued and trusted partners in their workers’ lives and create long-term sustainable bonds of trust, loyalty and productivity.

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The Great Resignation

The great resignation is the increased rate than the normal rate of workers who are quitting their jobs in United States that started in 2021 and continued even after the easing the severity of covid-19 pandemic using vaccination. The major cause of the great resignation could be the reduction in rate of unemployment and increase in creation of more jobs. It is found that many people were able to realize the best working environment that fits them during the pandemic period and therefore decided to switch their jobs in case they find that their current jobs are not supporting their well-being. This has left most US companies on a dilemma as they do not know where to start and how to curb the problem thus affecting their operations and performance. Therefore, the project will focus on the great resignation and how it has impacted the Unite States’ companies.

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The Great Resignation — Brought to You By: Women

great resignation essay

Many people are talking about The Great Resignation, also known as The Big Quit - an economic trend in which employees voluntarily resign from their jobs en masse. Beginning in early 2021, and primarily in the United States, The Great Resignation is one of the largest unorganized social movements of our time. Despite increased labor shortages, the diaspora continues. All told, over 38 million workers so far have quit their jobs during 2021 in America alone. 

In social democratic Western Europe, a stronger safety net has led to somewhat less disruption in the workforce. But similar trends are at play. “Data collated by the OECD, which groups most of the advanced industrial democracies, shows that in its 38 member countries, about 20 million fewer people are in work than before the coronavirus struck,” reports Politico Europe. “Of these, 14 million have exited the labor market and are classified as ‘not working’ and ‘not looking for work.’ Compared to 2019, 3 million more young people are not in employment, education or training.”

Many point to the stimulus checks and unemployment benefits as part of the reason for what Atlantic writer Derek Thompson has described as “a centrifugal moment in American economic history.” But most of the workforce quit after the checks and benefits stopped coming. So what’s happening?

This is not just a trend, it is a mass global exodus, a giant middle finger to work as usual and to a system that treats humans like a cog in a great wheel of production and consumerism. Many people who were forced to pause and catch their breath during COVID lockdown had time to reflect and reconsider the quality of their lives. They discovered time with loved ones, time in nature, time to slow down and listen to inner voices that had been silenced by the headwinds of frenetic contemporary pace. 

And that is one side of The Great Resignation story. It’s a positive side, and one that brings hope that when people have half a chance, they make choices that are more life- and spirit-affirming and in so doing create a groundswell that shifts societal norms. It proves to me that one of the singular most powerful things we can do is live our lives authentically as individuals and that one brave act conjoins with others who are doing the same which is the change we need to see in the world.

The other side to The Great Resignation is lesser known, yet important. A large part of the migration is actually mothers forced to leave the workforce, and unable to return. Women have exited the work force at twice the rate of men and of those women, the majority of them are mothers. 

So while we celebrate the popular redemptive narrative of personal epiphany journeys, this is not the case for millions of mothers who basically have nowhere to put their kids. This is not the case for millions of women who are the primary caregivers for members of their family who are elderly, or suffer chronic illnesses, mental health issues and disabilities. For them, the pandemic has provided not more personal space for insight, but more backbreaking relentlessness. 

Schools were closed for almost two straight years and still suffer interruptions, quarantines, and closures. Daycare centers, already unaffordable and in dramatically short supply  before  the pandemic, closed in record numbers over the past year. Now, costs have been driven even higher; waiting lists can stretch for months, and the labor force for those institutions are also radically reduced. And let’s not forget the increased demands on women during the pandemic for elder care and the care of those in their families with disabilities.

As Moira Donegan writes in The Guardian, “It might be more accurate to say that as far as working mothers [and caregivers] are concerned, the Great Resignation doesn’t reflect women  leaving  the workforce. It reflects them being forced out.”

This phenomenon is not seen in countries where sane and responsible investments in the childcare and elder care infrastructure are in place. Countries with universal and publicly funded healthcare and education / childcare such as Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Denmark (also known as the Nordic model ) remain the happiest in the world, even throughout the pandemic. 

Not so in the US. “The result has been a massive loss of talent, creativity and human potential from the paid economy. When care is not invested in, women are not prioritized – and that means that half of the nation’s minds risk being exiled to the domestic sphere.”

My concern is not only for the loss of talent the economic domain, but the increased loss of sovereignty, dignity, and power to American women, in general and to American mothers specifically. While it is too soon to analyze the metrics, the pandemic for American women may have created the largest setback we have ever collectively and individually experienced economically, socially, and professionally. 

We can learn a lot from the Nordic countries. Nordic exceptionalism isn’t just confined to citizen’s happiness. It includes democracy and political rights, job security and fulfillment, lack of corruption, trust between citizens, felt safety, social cohesion, gender equality, equal distribution of incomes, Human Development Index, or many other global comparisons.

Women, in particular, are impacted by healthcare and education especially because they are the predominant providers of informal care for family, who in turn are in need of those services. Women are also the key carers for those family members with disabilities, mental health issues and chronic medical conditions. Women across the world spend up to ten times more time on unpaid care work than men. 

So, countries that safeguard the health, education, and wellbeing of their citizens, in fact safeguard women. And these countries are happier, less violent, and more abundant. America is not one of those countries. In fact, America ranks 27th among nations investing in health care and education, just above Czech Republic (ranked 28th).

What would happen to America if it did one simple yet seismic shift, and put women first as a policy priority ensuring true equality? In some ways it’s astonishing that I’m even needing to ask this question of a contemporary country as powerful as America. According to a recent 2021 World Bank report , only ten countries in the world which offer full legal protections to women:  Belgium, France, Denmark, Latvia, Luxembourg, Sweden, Canada, Iceland, Portugal and Ireland. Ninety-four countries out of the world’s 194 ranked at 80% or above, up from 87 in 2020. Saudi Arabia, which came in last in 2019, has improved its score following new laws implemented in the country and now ranks 91st at 80%. The United States ranked at 91.3%, below countries like Peru and Albania.

Here’s what would happen if the US took a concerted effort to join those top ten countries in protecting the legal rights of women, and as well followed the Nordic model of funding healthcare and education: outcomes for children would improve, outcomes for elderly would improve, and outcomes for other marginalized populations would improve. Our economy would flourish. Our households would be more peaceful. And stunningly, outcomes for men would dramatically improve. Gender inequality is not a gender issue, it is a global issue that affects every one of us. 

So if someone in your orbit is enjoying a sea-change in their life granted by The Great Resignation, whether it be higher pay, a better position elsewhere, or a sabbatical retreat, you may want to share with them that this sea change was and continues to be shouldered by women, particularly poor Black mothers and poor mothers of color. In some sense, this is no different than the ways they have always shouldered this country throughout its history.

March 12th, 2022

Dealing with Unwanted Thoughts and Negative Narratives (spoiler alert: it’s not about positive thinking)

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Freedom Essay 30

‘Resignation’, the unacknowledged yet most important psychological event in human life

Written by Jeremy Griffith, 2017

Resignation has been briefly mentioned in earlier Freedom Essays, but the following presentation, which is essentially a condensation of chapters 2:2 and 2:3 of my book FREEDOM , explains and describes this important subject comprehensively.

Firstly, the overall and fundamental situation that the human race has been living in, which was set out in Video/​F. Essay 4 , needs to be re-iterated. In that essay it was described how cooperative, loving and gentle our bonobo-like ape ancestors were — the instinctive memory of which is our moral soul — and how unbearably depressing it has been for us fully conscious, psychologically upset, soul-corrupted, ‘fallen’, angry, egocentric and alienated humans to not be able, until now, to explain and understand why we corrupted our all-loving innocent soul. That video/​essay made it clear that the feeling of unworthiness, shame and guilt from not being able to understand why we had seemingly destroyed such a loving existence and turned utopia into dystopia has been so great that since the upset state of the human condition became extreme (basically since the advent of agriculture some 11,000 years ago — see F. Essay 38 ) every generation of humans has had no choice but to resign themselves to living in denial of the unbearably depressing issue of their extremely corrupted condition. And as will be explained in this essay, the time when each individual within those generations of overly upset humans wrestled with the unbearably depressing issue of their corrupted condition before eventually realising there was no option but to resign themselves to living in denial of the issue was during their early adolescence.

(Note that some of the following material was included much earlier in Video/​F. Essay 10 to introduce what the human condition actually is. Its re-use here is because a clear appreciation of what the human condition is is needed for the process of Resignation to be fully understood.)

A mother and child approach the gates to the Gardens of the human condition where people are killing, suiciding and crying.

Cartoon by Michael Leunig, Melbourne’s The Age newspaper, 8 Oct. 1988

In the absence of understanding of the human condition, complete block-out or denial of it was the only option available. The, until now, unfathomable horror of our species’ corrupted, ‘fallen’, innocence-destroyed, Garden-of-Eden-abandoned state was truthfully revealed in the above cartoon by Michael Leunig . Leunig’s ‘park’ is certainly not a picture of a lovely ordered environment where people peacefully and happily enjoy themselves, as we all too easily prefer to delude ourselves that the world we have created is like. Rather, it shows a mother and child approaching the ‘Gardens of the Human Condition’ with an expression of bewildered dread on the face of the mother, and in the case of the child, wide-eyed shock. Yes, as Leunig cleverly intimates, our world is no longer an innocent Garden of Eden, but a devastated realm of human-condition-stricken, psychologically distressed humans where ‘ in humanity’ reigns. ( F. Essay 21 provides the biological explanation for how our distant ape ancestors came to live in a cooperative, loving, innocent, Edenic state, and you can read many wonderful descriptions of this time of innocence in F. Essay 53 .) With this masterpiece, Leunig has boldly revealed the truth that despite the magnificence of our mental capabilities and our undeniable capacity for immense soulful sensitivity and love, we humans have become a brutally angry, hateful, destructive, arrogant, egocentric, selfish, mad, lonely, unhappy and psychologically depressed species. Instead of love, beauty and harmony, Leunig has people fighting, beating and strangling each other, drunk out of their minds, depressed, lonely, crying, hiding and suiciding, going mad, and egocentrically holding forth — reflecting, in effect, every aspect of the human condition.

The full horror of our species’ contradictory nature was made explicit by the polymath Blaise Pascal when he wrote, ‘What a chimera then is man! What a novelty, what a monster, what a chaos, what a contradiction, what a prodigy! Judge of all things, imbecile worm of the earth, repository of truth, a sewer of uncertainty and error, the glory and the scum of the universe!’ ( Pensées , 1669 ) . William Shakespeare was equally revealing of the paradoxical true nature of the human condition when he wrote, ‘What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty!…​In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? [Brutal and barbaric] man delights not me’ ( Hamlet , 1603 ) !!

People often think that the human condition refers to the state of widespread poverty and physical hardship in human life, or to problems such as human inequality, but these problems are only superficial manifestations and aspects of the human condition. What Pascal and Shakespeare have written about the dichotomy of ‘man’ is what the human condition really is. The human race as a whole — and we individually because we each carry manifestations of these aspects — embodies this most extraordinary ‘contradiction’ of being the most brilliantly clever of creatures, the ones who are ‘god’ – ‘like’ in our ‘ infinite’ ‘faculty’ of ‘reason’ and ‘apprehension’ , and yet we also behave in the most seemingly completely unclever ‘monster [ous] ’ , ‘imbecile worm of the earth’ , ‘sewer of uncertainty and error’ , ‘scum of the universe’ ‘quintessence of dust’ way. Not only are we competitive, aggressive and selfish when our moral instinctive self expects us to be cooperative, loving and selfless, we are actually the meanest, most vicious of species, one that is only too capable of inflicting pain, cruelty, suffering and degradation. As the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer wrote, ‘man is the only animal which causes pain to others with no other object than causing pain…​No animal ever torments another for the sake of tormenting: but man does so, and it is this which constitutes the diabolical nature which is far worse than the merely bestial’ ( Essays and Aphorisms , tr. R.J. Hollingdale, 1970 , p. 139 of 237 ) . Yes, there has been this immensely perplexing and seemingly unanswerable question of are we ‘monster [s] ’ , the ‘essence’ of ‘dust’ , ‘the scum of the universe’ , or are we a wonderful ‘prodigy’ , even ‘glor [ious] ’ ‘angel [s] ’ ?

Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest skyscraper at 830 metres high towers above the city scape


‘How infinite in faculty’ — at 830 m high, the Burj Khalifa in Dubai is the world’s tallest skyscraper

A massive fire ball engulfs a residential apartment in Aleppo after being bombed as people watch and take cover

But ‘what a monster’ — war in Aleppo, Syria, 2013

Thankfully, as explained in THE Interview and Video/​F. Essay 3 , we humans can at long last now explain and understand that we are not , in fact, ‘monster [s] ’ but ‘glor [ious] ’ heroes. HOWEVER — having had to live without this reconciling and dignifying understanding has meant that each human growing up under the duress of the human condition has suffered from immense insecurity about their fundamental goodness, worth and meaningfulness . So much so that the more we tried to think about this, in truth, most obvious question of our meaningfulness and worthiness (or otherwise), the more insecure and depressed our thoughts became. The emotional anxiety produced when reading Pascal’s and Shakespeare’s descriptions of the human condition gives some indication of just how unnervingly confronting the issue of the human condition really is. But the truth, as initially emphasised and as will now be more fully explained, is that this intensely personal yet universal issue of the human condition has been so unbearably confronting and depressing that we eventually learnt as we grew up that we had no choice but to resign ourselves to never revisiting the subject, to never again looking at the seemingly inexplicable issue of the human condition . The examination of this process of what I call ‘Resignation’ to living in Plato ’s dark cave of denial of the human condition (see The Great Guilt that causes the Deaf Effect and Video/​F. Essay 11 ), and how it unfolds, will reveal how immensely fearful humans have been of the human condition, and therefore how transforming it is for humans to no longer have to live in Plato’s dark and lonely ‘cave’ in fear of it.

Graphic of humans escaping a dark cave and running towards a glorious sunrise with arms outstretched in joy and celebration

Plato’s cave of darkness where we’ve had to hide, but which we now leave and enter a transformed world flooded with the light of understanding.

As is explained in detail in chapter 8 of FREEDOM , as humans grew up in a human-condition-stricken world that wasn’t able to be truthfully analysed and explained, we each became increasingly troubled by the glaringly obvious issue of the extreme ‘imperfections of human life’ (as Plato referred to ‘our human condition’ ). This progression went through precise stages. As consciousness emerged in humans we progressed from being able to sufficiently understand the relationship between cause and effect to become self-conscious, aware of our own existence, during our infancy, to proactively carrying out experiments in self-management during our childhood, at which point all the manifestations of the human condition of anger, egocentricity and alienation began to reveal themselves. It follows that it was during our childhood that we each became increasingly aware of not only the imperfection of the human-condition-stricken world around us, but of the imperfection of our own behaviour — that we too suffered from anger, selfishness, meanness and indifference to others. Basically, all of human life, including our own behaviour, became increasingly bewildering and distressing, to such a degree that by the time children reached late childhood they generally entered what is recognised as the ‘naughty nines’ , where their confusion and frustration was such that they even angrily began taunting and bullying those around them.

By the end of childhood, however, children realised that lashing out in exasperation at the imperfections, wrongness and injustice of the world didn’t change anything and that the only possible way to end their frustration was to understand why the world, and their own behaviour, was not ideal. It was at this point, which occurred around 12 years of age, that children underwent a dramatic change from being frustrated, protesting, demonstrative, loud extroverts into sobered, deeply thoughtful, quiet introverts, consumed with anxiety about the imperfections of life under the duress of the human condition . Indeed, it is in recognition of this very significant psychological transition from a relatively human-condition-free state to a very human-condition-aware state that we separate these stages into ‘Childhood’ and ‘Adolescence’, a shift even our schooling system marks by having children graduate from what is generally called primary school into secondary school. What then happened during adolescence was that, at about 14 or 15 years of age and after struggling for a few years to make sense of existence, the search for understanding became so confronting of those extreme internal imperfections that adolescents had no choice but to ‘Resign’ to living in denial of the whole unbearably depressing and seemingly unsolvable issue of the human condition — after which they became superficial and artificial escapists, not wanting to look at any issue too deeply, and, before long, combative and competitive power-fame-fortune-and-glory, relief-from-the-agony-and-guilt-of-the-human-condition-seeking resigned adults .

Drawing depicting our sense of guilt at Resignation in response to our moral conscience accusing us of being bad

Approaching Resignation

Drawing by Jeremy Griffith showing a figure blocking out the ideals with an arrow to another figure reaching for a trophy

J.Griffith © 1991-2011 Fedmex Pty Ltd

The moment of Resignation

Delving deeper into how the journey toward ‘Resignation’ unfolds will make it clear why resigned humans became so superficial and artificial — so alienated/​soul-dead — in their behaviour and thinking .

So what happened at around 14 or 15 years of age for virtually all humans growing up under the duress of ‘the imperfections’ of ‘our human condition’ was that to avoid the suicidal depression that accompanied any thinking about the issue of our species’, and our own , seemingly extremely imperfect, soul-corrupted condition, there was simply no choice but to stop grappling with the answerless question. And so despite the human condition being the all-important issue of the meaningfulness or otherwise of our existence, there came a time when adolescents reached the age of about 14 or 15 that they were forced to put the whole depressing subject aside once and for all and just hope that one day in the future the explanation and defence for our species’, and thus our own, apparently horrifically flawed, seemingly utterly disappointing, sad, soul-devastated state would be found, because then, and only then, would it be psychologically safe to even broach the subject . (And since that all-precious explanation of our corrupted condition has now been found, we can safely admit and address the subject of Resignation.)

In 2010 a poignantly honest film titled It’s Kind Of A Funny Story (from the book of the same name about the author Ned Vizzini ’s own experiences), was made about a 16 -year-old boy named Craig who is going through the agonising process of grappling with the human condition; he struggles with ‘suicidal’ ‘depression’ from ‘anxiety’ about ‘grades, parents [who don’t seem to have ‘a clue’ that ‘there’s something bigger going on’ ] , two wars, impending environmental catastrophe, a messed up economy’ . Eventually a psychiatrist counsels him that ‘there is a saying that goes something like this: “Lord, grant me the strength to change the things I can, the courage to accept the things I can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference”’ ; basically he is advised to resign himself to living in denial of the human condition. (Tragically, Vizzini was eventually overcome by his anguish and committed suicide.)

A collage of a teen holding their head in mental angst, hiding face their face in despair and looking sad wearing a hoodie

The Beatles ’ song Let It Be — consistently voted one of the most popular songs of the twentieth century — is actually an anthem to this need that adolescents have historically had, when confronted with the unbearable ‘hour of darkness’ that came from grappling with the issue of all ‘the broken hearted people living in the world’ , to ‘let it be’ ‘until tomorrow’ when ‘there will be an answer’ (Lennon/​McCartney, 1970 ) . So when the great poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote about the unbearably depressing subject of the human condition in his aptly titled poem No Worst, There Is None ( 1885 ) , his words, ‘O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall, frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed’ , did not exaggerate the depth of depression humans faced if we allowed our minds to think about the human condition while it was still to be ‘fathomed’ /​understood/​ ‘answer [ed] ’ . Yes, when, in ‘my hour of darkness’ , ‘Mother Mary comes…​speaking words of wisdom, let it be, let it be’ — accept the adults’ ‘wisdom’ , and don’t go there!

A collage of teenagers: holding their head in despair, looking despondent and in mental pain

It’s little wonder then that the human condition has been described so vehemently as ‘the personal unspeakable’ and as ‘the black box inside of humans they can’t go near’ (personal conversations, WTM records, Feb. 1995 ) — and why it is so very rare to find a completely honest description of adolescents going through the excruciating process of Resignation, of resigning themselves to having to block out the seemingly inexplicable question of their worth and meaning and live, from that time on, in denial of the unbearable issue of the human condition. Having already been through this terrible process of Resignation, most adults simply couldn’t allow themselves to recall, recognise and thus empathise with what adolescents were experiencing (they were, as Ned Vizzini/​Craig complained, rendered ‘clue’ -less to the situation). And so our young have been alone with their pain, unable to share it with those closest, or the world at large. All of which makes the following account of a teenager in the midst of Resignation, by the American Pulitzer Prize-winning child psychiatrist Robert Coles , incredibly special: ‘I tell of the loneliness many young people feel…​It’s a loneliness that has to do with a self-imposed judgment of sorts…​I remember…​a young man of fifteen who engaged in light banter, only to shut down, shake his head, refuse to talk at all when his own life and troubles became the subject at hand. He had stopped going to school…​he sat in his room for hours listening to rock music, the door closed…​I asked him about his head-shaking behavior: I wondered whom he was thereby addressing. He replied: “No one.” I hesitated, gulped a bit as I took a chance: “Not yourself?” He looked right at me now in a sustained stare, for the first time. “Why do you say that?” [he asked] …​I decided not to answer the question in the manner that I was trained [basically, ‘trained’ in avoiding what the human condition really is] …​Instead, with some unease…​I heard myself saying this: “I’ve been there; I remember being there — remember when I felt I couldn’t say a word to anyone”…​The young man kept staring at me, didn’t speak…​When he took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes, I realized they had begun to fill’ ( The Moral Intelligence of Children, 1996 , pp. 143 – 144 of 218 ) . The boy was in tears because Coles had reached him with some recognition and appreciation of what he was wrestling with; Coles had shown some honesty about what the boy could see and was struggling with, namely the horror of the utter hypocrisy of human behaviour — including his own.

The middle picture below is particularly revealing of this utter hypocrisy of human behaviour now. It is clearly a picture created by an adolescent girl in the midst of Resignation. Having not yet blocked out from her mind the extreme contrast between our species’ original cooperative and loving moral instinctive self or soul (which she, like every other human, is instinctively aware of) and our present horrifically corrupted, angry, egocentric and alienated condition (symbolised by the green-eyed wolf drawing she has made of herself), she is still wrestling with the horror of the utter hypocrisy of our horrifically corrupted or ‘fallen’, soul-devastated condition.

A collage of a teenage girl covering her face crying, a gif of a teenage girl as a fierce wolf and teen crouched against wall.

It is revealing to note here that the words Coles used in his admission that he too had once grappled with the issue of the human condition, of ‘I’ve been there’ , are exactly those used by one of Australia’s greatest poets, Henry Lawson , in his extraordinarily honest poem about the unbearable depression that results from trying to confront the question of why human behaviour is so at odds with the cooperative, loving — or, to use religious terms, ‘Godly’ — ideals of life (see F. Essay 23 for an explanation of Integrative Meaning or ‘God’). In his 1897 poem The Voice from Over Yonder , Lawson wrote: ‘“Say it! think it, if you dare! Have you ever thought or wondered, why the Man and God were sundered [torn apart] ? Do you think the Maker blundered?” And the voice in mocking accents, answered only: “I’ve been there.”’ The unsaid words in the final phrase, ‘I’ve been there’ , being ‘and I’m certainly not going ‘there’ again!’ — with the ‘there’ and the ‘over yonder’ of the title referring to the state of deepest, darkest depression.

‘The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters’ by Goya, with a man slumped in despair on his desk with owls gyring above him.

Goya’s The sleep of reason brings forth monsters , 1796-97

In his bestselling 2003 book, Goya (about the great Spanish artist Francisco Goya ), another Australian, Robert Hughes , who for many years was TIME magazine’s art critic, described how he ‘had been thinking about Goya…​ [since] I was a high school student in Australia…​ [with] the first work of art I ever bought…​ [being] a poor second state of Capricho 43 …​ The sleep of reason brings forth monsters …​ [Goya’s most famous etching reproduced above] of the intellectual beset with doubts and night terrors, slumped on his desk with owls gyring around his poor perplexed head’ (p. 3 of 435 ) . Hughes then commented that ‘glimpsing The sleep of reason brings forth monsters was a fluke’ (p. 4 ) . A little further on, Hughes wrote of this experience that ‘At fifteen, to find this voice [of Goya’s] — so finely wrought [in The sleep of reason brings forth monsters ] and yet so raw, public and yet strangely private — speaking to me with such insistence and urgency…​was no small thing. It had the feeling of a message transmitted with terrible urgency, mouth to ear: this is the truth , you must know this, I have been through it’ (p. 5 ) . Again, while the process of Resignation is such a horrific experience that adults determined never to revisit it, or even recall it, Hughes’ attraction to The sleep of reason brings forth monsters was not the ‘fluke’ he thought it was. The person slumped at the table with owls and bats gyrating around his head perfectly depicts the bottomless depression that occurs in humans just prior to resigning to a life of denial of the issue of the human condition, and someone in that situation would have recognised that meaning instantly, almost wilfully drawing such a perfect representation of their state out of the world around them. Even the title is accurate: ‘The sleep of reason’ — namely, the deep thinking that occurs if we let our superficial ‘reasoning’ slip — does ‘bring forth monsters’ ! While Hughes hasn’t recognised that what he was negotiating ‘At fifteen’ was Resignation, he has accurately recalled how strongly he connected to what was being portrayed in the etching: ‘It had the feeling of a message transmitted with terrible urgency, mouth to ear: this is the truth , you must know this, I have been through it.’ Note how Hughes’ words, ‘I have been through it’ , are almost identical to Coles’ and Lawson’s words, ‘I’ve been there.’

And so, unable to acknowledge the process of Resignation, adults instead blamed the well-known struggles of adolescence on the hormonal upheaval that accompanies puberty, the so-called ‘ puberty blues ’ — even terming glandular fever, a debilitating illness that often occurs in mid-adolescence, a puberty-related ‘kissing disease’. These terms, ‘puberty blues’ and ‘kissing disease’, are dishonest, denial-complying, Plato’s-cave-dwelling, evasive excuses because it wasn’t the onset of puberty that was causing the depressing ‘blues’ or glandular fever, but the trauma of Resignation. For glandular fever to occur, a person’s immune system must be extremely rundown, and yet during puberty the body is physically at its peak in terms of growth and vitality — so for an adolescent to succumb to the illness they must be under extraordinary psychological pressure, experiencing stresses much greater than those that could possibly be associated with the physical adjustments to puberty, an adjustment, after all, that has been going on since animals first became sexual. No, the depression and glandular fever experienced by young adolescents are a direct result of the trauma of having to resign to never again revisiting the unbearably depressing subject of the human condition.

The latest way that dishonest, mechanistic science has found to deny that adolescent mental illnesses are due to the process of Resignation is to blame them on a lack of physical development in the adolescent brain. An article in the June 2015 edition of Scientific American , titled ‘The Amazing Teen Brain’, claims that while the emotional limbic brain matures during puberty, the prefrontal cortex, which keeps a lid on impulsive actions, doesn’t approach full development until a decade later, so it doesn’t properly contain the adolescent’s limbic emotions! The conscious mind does struggle to deal with the limbic soul’s agony about the human condition, but it’s not because it isn’t developed enough, it’s because during Resignation the adolescent hasn’t yet decided to resign to a life of consciously blocking out the limbic soul. Do the teenagers in all these photos that have been included look like they’re suffering from immature brains? No, they are clearly deeply, deeply distressed, worried sick about something for God’s sake! What a load of avoid-the-truth-of-the-psychological-dilemma-of-the-human-condition-at-all-costs mechanistic, Plato’s-dark-cave-dwelling crap! Scientific American , more like Scientific Garbage Bin . (Read more about mechanistic science’s dishonest excuses for human behaviour in Video/​F. Essay 14 & F. Essay 40 .)

List of ‘Teen Mental Health Things to Know’

Example of evasive (‘bullshit’) reasons for teenage angst

It makes complete sense then why that sublime classic of American literature, J.D. Salinger ’s 1951 novel The Catcher in the Rye , is a masterpiece because, like Coles, Salinger dared to write about that forbidden subject for adults of adolescents having to resign to a dishonest life of denial of the human condition — for The Catcher in the Rye is actually entirely about a 16 -year-old boy struggling against Resignation. The boy, Holden Caulfield, complains of feeling ‘surrounded by phonies’ and ‘morons’ who ‘never want to discuss anything’ , of living on the ‘opposite sides of the pole’ to most people, where he ‘just didn’t like anything that was happening’ , to wanting to escape to ‘somewhere with a brook…​ [where] I could chop all our own wood in the winter time and all’ . He knows he is supposed to resign — in the novel he talks about being told that ‘Life…​ [is] a game…​you should play it according to the rules’ , and to feeling ‘so damn lonesome’ and ‘depressed’ that he felt like ‘committing suicide’ . As a result of all this despair and disenchantment with the world he keeps ‘failing’ his subjects at school and is expelled from four for ‘making absolutely no effort at all’ . About his behaviour he says, ‘I swear to God I’m a madman’ and ‘I know. I’m very hard to talk to’ . But like the boy in Coles’ account, Holden finally encounters some rare honesty from an adult that, in Holden’s words, ‘really saved my life’ . This is what the adult said: ‘This fall I think you’re riding for — it’s a special kind of fall, a horrible kind…​ [where you] just keep falling and falling [utter depression]. ’ The adult then spoke of men who ‘at some time or other in their lives, were looking for something their own environment couldn’t supply them with…​So they gave up looking [they resigned] …​ [adding] you’ll find that you’re not the first person who was ever confused and frightened and even sickened by human behavior’ . Yes, to be ‘confused and frightened’ to the point of being ‘sickened by human behavior’ — indeed, to be ‘suicid [ally] ’ ‘depressed’ by it — is the effect the human condition has if you haven’t resigned yourself to living a relieving but utterly dishonest and superficial life in denial of it. (see par. 113 of FREEDOM )

J.D. Salinger sitting at a desk smoking while reading a book

J.D. Salinger (1919–2010)

Front cover of book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ with a solitary figure in a red cap walking in a city park in the snow

Going through Resignation has been a truly horrific experience. A friend and I were walking in bushland past a school one day when we came across a boy, who would have been about 14 years old, sitting by the track in a hunched, foetal position. When I asked him if he was okay he looked up with such deep despair in his eyes that it was clear he didn’t want to be disturbed and so we left him alone. It was very apparent that he was trying to wrestle with the issue of the human condition, but without understanding of the human condition it hasn’t been possible for virtually all humans to do so without becoming so hideously condemned and thus depressed that they had no choice but to eventually surrender and take up denial of the issue of the human condition as the only way to cope with it — even though doing so meant adopting a completely dishonest, superficial and artificial, effectively dead, existence.

Collage of adolescents alone, depressed with their head in their hands depicting teenage depression at Resignation

Images of adolescents in the midst of Resignation used to be difficult to find, but I have recently found many pictures of adolescents in that state in Google Images using the search terms ‘teen angst’ and ‘teen depression’, some of which I’ve included throughout this essay. Previously I relied upon the following haunting image from my picture collection of a boy who had, the day before, lost all his classmates in a plane crash , because his expression is exactly the same deeply sobered, drained pale, all-pretences-and-facades-stripped-away, pained, tragic, stunned, human-condition-laid-bare expression I have seen on the faces of adolescents going through Resignation. We can see in this boy’s face that all the artificialities of human life have been rendered meaningless and ineffectual by the horror of losing all his friends, leaving bare only the sad, painful awareness of a world devoid of any real love, meaning or truth.

Black & white photograph of a teenage boy standing by a creek with fishing gear, looking devoid of emotion.

‘Too poor to go on school trip, boy fishes the day after classmates perish in plane crash’ LIFE magazine, Fall Special Edition, 1991

Although rarely shared, adolescents in the midst of Resignation quite often write excruciatingly honest poetry about their impending fate; indeed, The Catcher in the Rye is really one long poem about the agony of having to resign to living a human-condition-denying, superficial, totally false, Plato’s-cave-dwelling existence. Once Resignation is explained, many people can remember writing such agonising poems during their Resignation. I have written much more about Resignation in my book A Species In Denial at www.humancondition.com/asid-resignation , however, the following are two horrifically honest Resignation poems that are discussed at that link and worth including here to provide first-hand insights into the agony of adolescence, the first by 13 -year-old Fiona : ‘You will never have a home again / You’ll forget the bonds of family and family will become just family / Smiles will never bloom from your heart again, but be fake and you will speak fake words to fake people from your fake soul / What you do today you will do tomorrow and what you do tomorrow you will do for the rest of your life / From now on pressure, stress, pain and the past can never be forgotten / You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories / Your mind and thoughts rule your body that will hold all things inside it; bottled up, now impossible to be released / You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy / Time, joy and freedom will hardly come your way and never last as you well know / Others’ lives and the dreams of things that you can never have or be part of, will keep you alive / You will become like the rest of the world — a divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate, pretending it doesn’t exist / There is only one way to escape society and the world you help build, but that is impossible, for no one can ever become a baby again / Instead you spend the rest of life trying to find the meaning of life and confused in its maze’ . And the second Resignation poem is by 12 -year-old Eric : ‘Growing Up: There is a little hillside / Where I used to sit and think / I thought of being a fireman / And of thoughts, I thought important / Then they were beyond me / Way above my head / But now they are forgotten / Trivial and dead.’

Broadway muscial actors from ‘Guys and Dolls’

‘You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy.’ Actors in the Broadway musical On the Town

Yes, as these poems so painfully express, Resignation means blocking out all memory of the innocent, soulful, true world because it is unbearably condemning of our present immensely corrupted human condition: ‘You have no heart or soul and there are no good memories / Your mind and thoughts rule your body that will hold all things inside it; bottled up, now impossible to be released / You are fake, you will be fake, you will be a supreme actor of happiness but never be happy.’ And since virtually all adults have resigned, that is exactly how ‘fake’ , or as the 16 -year-old Holden Caulfield described it, ‘phony’ , they have become. Clearly, the price of Resignation is enormous , but the alternative for virtually all humans of not resigning has been an even worse fate because it meant living with constant suicidal depression.

Cover of the book ‘Catcher in the Rye’ next to a tshirt with a phrase from the book

Appreciably then, in what forms the key passage in The Catcher in the Rye (indeed, it provides the meaning behind the book’s enigmatic title), Salinger has Holden Caulfield dreaming of a time when this absolute horror, indeed obscenity, of Resignation will no longer have to form an unavoidable part of human life : ‘I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around — nobody big, I mean — except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff — I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be’ (see par. 118 of FREEDOM ) . And , as is explained in FREEDOM , the time that Holden Caulfield so yearned for when we will be able to ‘catch’ all children before ‘they start to go over the [excruciating] cliff’ of Resignation to a life of utter dishonesty, ‘phony’ , ‘fake’ superficiality, and silence in terms of ‘never want [ing] to discuss anything’ truthfully again, has finally come about with the finding of the all-clarifying, redeeming and relieving truthful, fully compassionate explanation of human behaviour! Yes, the real ‘catcher in the rye’ is the ability to explain ‘human behavior’ so that it is no longer ‘sicken [ing] ’ but understandable, and, best of all, healable. So FREEDOM provides the real, I-don’t-want-to-go- ‘over-the-cliff’ help all adolescents going through Resignation have pleaded for.

Collage of adolescent girl holding sign ‘HELP’, ‘HELP’ written on wrists depicting teenage depression at Resignation

Given the horrific agony apparent in the above pictures of adolescents pleading for help, I thought I might include another Resignation poem that makes it so clear how precious this redeeming understanding of the human condition is for all the children out there who are suffering having to go through Resignation. This Resignation poem is by 15 -year-old Sarah . It has lines almost identical to those in 13 -year-old Fiona’s poem included earlier. For example, where Fiona wrote, ‘What you do today you will do tomorrow and what you do tomorrow you will do for the rest of your life…​You will become like the rest of the world — a divine actor, trying to hide and suppress your fate’ , Sarah similarly wrote, ‘there is no past, no future. All that was has slipped slowly away. There is no living. Only existing, devoid of understanding and free will. That is how it must be as we fade in to the neverland’ .

Sarah’s full poem can be found in the online version of my book A Species In Denial at www.humancondition.com/asid-resignation-poetry , but these are some other excruciating lines from her poem: ‘We are the dead. Move on to certain sacrifice, close off … Everything you ever knew, could touch, could taste, could smell, could hold, whisper into the flames as it crumbles into grey ash … the drive to play God – one day the ideas will take over who we are, our promiscuous wanderings into the infinite shall see us lost … The consequences of delving to deep into what was meant to be unknown strike a harsh blow on their world … fear beyond all fears … The question that looms before seemingly boundless canyons … the eyes strip back to reveal the ugly core. It’s dark. I can only see the metallic illumination of my pen against the blackness … Run away, recant, forget. What you want to forget will always return … Pain – It’s an ache going so deep that sometimes I think it becomes me. It is me. I can’t see beneath it to who I am, and I can’t make it go away. Every jab of pain we ever felt is marked somewhere within us, pushed away, covered in dust –  but it only takes the will to remember and we feel it again … Mental paralysis … Tormenting demons rising and falling within us … A small child reaches unknowingly – only to be whisked into the spinning chasms of reality, frantically grasping where handles should be … Thoughts, so many thoughts – and the constant pain, always there. Sometimes it is a dull beat inside me, others a throbbing agony. I can’t tell where it comes from. My throat, my chest, my stomach – I hate the weakness – the fucking weakness – Father why have you forsaken me??? … draw away before they see who each other is inside – that is how it has always been – leave before it gets too close, too suffocating – Claustrophobia of the mind – leave before you become trapped in their emotions, entangled in their fears until you can’t pretend – and reality descends … at the slightest hint of a window you flee – you’re lost – you’re weak, you’re guilty … And time moves on, regardless, until tomorrow becomes yesterday and you are threatened with self awareness once again … it’s all pretend and no one can show you a morning’ .

It should be mentioned that there have been people who avoided Resignation. Denial-free, effective thinking prophets have obviously been sufficiently sound and secure in self as a result of exceptional nurturing and love during their upbringing to not have had to resign to living in fearful denial of the issue of the human condition. (More is explained about prophets in F. Essay 39 : Christ explained .) The psychiatrist R.D. Laing recognised that innocence had to be preserved to create a prophet when he wrote that ‘Each child is a new beginning, a potential prophet’ (see par. 680 of FREEDOM ) . The other variety of unresigned individuals are those I refer to as ‘ ships at sea ’. These are individuals who, as it were, bravely refused to ‘pull into port’ and adopt denial when the ‘storms’ of agonising confrontation with the issue of the human condition occurred ‘out at sea’ during their adolescence — basically, they chose honest madness over alienated stability. As is very apparent in the video titled ‘Resignation/​Ships at Sea’ (direct link: www.humancondition.com/wtm-videos/?video=resignation-unresigned-ships_resignation-unresigned-ships-at-sea-pt1 , or find the video in the ‘Candid Discussions’ section at www.humancondition.com/wtm-videos ) , being one of those ‘ships at sea’ who aren’t exceptionally sound but try to live facing the human condition without reconciling understanding of it, has meant having to live an extremely torturous and lonely life. Of course — and this is also apparent in that ‘Resignation/​Ships at Sea’ video — now that reconciling understanding of the human condition has been found, the great benefit of being a ‘ship at sea’ is that you have absolutely no difficulty reading about the human condition in FREEDOM . Unresigned minds don’t suffer from the ‘ deaf effect ’ that causes denial-ridden resigned minds to initially find it almost impossible to read FREEDOM , blaming the inaccessibility on every form of bad writing imaginable! (The problem of the ‘deaf effect’ and how to overcome it is addressed in The Great Guilt that causes the Deaf Effect , and then again briefly in Video/​F. Essay 1 and more fully in Video/​F. Essay 11 ; and you can read more about ‘ships at sea’ and their responsibility to lead the way in supporting this information in F. Essay 60 .)

A man lies alone on the deck of a disabled boat in stormy seas and circled by menacing looking sharks

Winslow Homer ’s The Gulf Stream (1899) encapsulates the struggle and loneliness of the life of an unresigned ‘ship at sea’

With regard to how precious understanding the human condition is for young people agonising about the human condition, the following is a letter I received from 16 -year-old student Lisa that illustrates how young adolescents who have not yet resigned to living in denial of the human condition have not suffered from the ‘deaf effect’ at all and been able to read and digest my books with the greatest of ease: ‘Before stumbling upon [your 1988 book] Free: The End Of The Human Condition that was discreetly shoved in the back of the philosophy section, I was at the end of my road. I had experienced a year of complete and utter pain, confusion, anger and frustration. When I finally took the plunge to seek medical help (as I was suicidal), I was diagnosed with severe depression and put on medication. After reading your book (which I stayed up till 2 am reading, I just couldn’t put it down), I have been one of the fastest recovering depressants around. No wonder why. If everyone knew your insights, so much would be resolved. The purpose of this letter is to thank you for your courage in publishing your sure-to-be controversial work, and for basically recovering and saving this 16 year old. Not only is your work the absolute truth and has restored my faith in humanity, it has given me inspiration to help others. I may seem young to know what I’m talking about but, well, I do. I have tested all your work and others and yours always held up.’

It is a measure of just how unbearable the issue of the human condition has been that while Resignation has been the most important psychological event in human life, the process is never spoken of and has virtually gone unacknowledged in the public realm, with only a rare few of our most accomplished writers even managing to write about the suicidally depressing experience of engaging the subject of the human condition itself . To this end, many ‘philosophers and psychologists’ consider that the great Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard ’s ‘analysis on the nature of despair is one of the best accounts on the subject’ — with the ‘nature of despair’ being as close as the reviewer could go in referring to the worse-than-death, suicidal depression that the human condition has caused humans, but which Kierkegaard managed to give such an honest account of in his aptly titled 1849 book, The Sickness Unto Death : ‘the torment of despair is precisely the inability to die [and end the torture of our unexplained human condition] …​that despair is the sickness unto death, this tormenting contradiction [of our ‘good and evil’, human condition-afflicted lives] , this sickness in the self; eternally to die, to die and yet not to die’ . Kierkegaard went on to include these unnervingly truthful words about how, even when the blocks were in place in our minds against recognising the existence of the issue of the human condition, the terrifying ‘anxiety’ it caused us still occasionally surfaced: ‘there is not a single [adult] human being who does not despair at least a little, in whose innermost being there doesn’t dwell an uneasiness, an unquiet, a discordance, an anxiety in the face of an unknown something, or a something he doesn’t even dare strike up acquaintance with…​he goes about with a sickness, goes about weighed down with a sickness of the spirit, which only now and then reveals its presence within, in glimpses, and with what is for him an inexplicable anxiety.’ (see par. 119 of FREEDOM )

Portrait lithograph of Soren Kierkegaard

Søren Kierkegaard ( 1813–1855 )

Nikolai Berdyaev

Nikolai Berdyaev ( 1874–1948 )

Another great philosopher, the Russian Nikolai Berdyaev , gave this extraordinarily forthright description of how trying to address and solve the sickeningly depressing issue of the human condition and, by so doing, make sense of human behaviour, has been a nightmare: ‘Knowledge requires great daring. It means victory over ancient, primeval terror. Fear makes the search for truth and the knowledge of it impossible…​it must also be said of knowledge that it is bitter, and there is no escaping that bitterness…​Particularly bitter is moral knowledge, the knowledge of good and evil. But the bitterness is due to the fallen state of the world, and in no way undermines the value of knowledge…​it must be said that the very distinction between good and evil is a bitter distinction, the bitterest thing in the world…​There is a deadly pain in the very distinction of good and evil, of the valuable and the worthless’ ( The Destiny of Man , 1931 ; tr. N. Duddington, 1960 , pp. 14-15 of 310 ) . Yes, trying to think about our species’ and our own upset, corrupted, ‘fallen’ , seemingly ‘evil’ and ‘worthless’ state has been an ‘ancient, primeval terror’ , a ‘deadly pain’ , ‘the bitterest thing in the world’ for virtually all humans. As one of the key figures of the Enlightenment, the philosopher Immanuel Kant , said: we have to ‘Dare to know!’ ( What is Enlightenment? , 1784 ) .

We can appreciate here why most people suffer from the ‘ deaf effect ’ when they try to read my writings about the human condition, or when listening to my talks about it. Their minds realise they are being taken back towards a subject they once experienced during their adolescence as ‘primeval terror’ , a ‘deadly pain’ , such suicidal depression it was ‘the bitterest thing in the world’ that they don’t want to go there again. ‘Once bitten, twice shy’ as the saying goes. Even though the human condition has finally been explained and thus made safe to confront, it takes a little while to trust that the subject is now safe to confront. Two million years of fear of the human condition requires patience to overcome.

Vincent Van Gogh’s paiting, ‘Wheatfield with Crows’, depicts a golden wheatfield under a dark and foreboding sky with a flock of menacing crows flying low over the field.

The ominous Wheatfield with crows (1890) , believed to be Van Gogh ’s last work before he took his own life, conveys something of the terror of the human condition.

Yes, up until now the issue of the human condition has been a terrifying off-limits subject for almost everyone. In the case of the psychoanalyst Carl Jung , he certainly exhibited ‘great daring’ in his thinking when he wrote the following words about how terrifying the issue of the human condition has been: ‘When it [our shadow ] appears…​it is quite within the bounds of possibility for a man to recognize the relative evil of his nature, but it is a rare and shattering experience for him to gaze into the face of absolute evil’ . The ‘face of absolute evil’ that Jung refers to is the ‘shattering’ possibility — if we allowed our minds to think about it — that we humans really are just a cancerous blight on this planet. The philosopher René Descartes also wasn’t exaggerating how utterly depressing the subject of the human condition has been for the conscious mind of most people when he wrote: ‘So serious are the doubts into which I have been thrown…​that I can neither put them out of my mind nor see any way of resolving them. It feels as if I have fallen unexpectedly into a deep whirlpool which tumbles me around so that I can neither stand on the bottom nor swim up to the top’ ( Complexity , 1993 , p. 154 of 208 ) .

The opening lines of William Blake ’s famous poem The Tiger — ‘Tiger, Tiger, burning bright, In the forests of the night’ — also make clear the great fear, and the resulting denial, we humans have had of the issue of our seemingly imperfect, ‘fallen’ or corrupted state or condition — a subject we have consciously repressed and yet one that has been ‘burning bright, In the forests of the night’ of our deepest awareness. In his poem, Blake honestly describes the terror and horrific depression that the issue of the human condition has caused: ‘what’ ‘eye’ ‘could’ be expected to look at the ‘fearful’ subject, ‘what’ ‘hand’ would ‘dare seize the fire’ that ‘could twist the sinews of thy heart?’ ; the terrible ‘hammer’ , the ‘furnace’ in ‘thy brain’ , no one can possibly ‘dare its deadly terrors clasp!’ Then, getting to the very heart of the issue, he asks, ‘Did he who made the lamb make thee?’ — a rhetorical question disturbing in its insinuation that we are wholly unrelated to ‘the lamb’ , to the world of innocence. (Read more about Blake’s poem in Video/​F. Essay 10 .)

And so to avoid that insinuation, humans have had to avoid almost all deep, penetrating, truthful thinking because almost any thinking at a deeper level brought us into contact with the unbearable issue of our seemingly horribly flawed condition: ‘There’s a tree with lovely autumn leaves; isn’t it amazing how beautiful nature can be, I wonder why some things are beautiful while others are not — I wonder why I’m not beautiful inside, in fact, so full of all manner of angst, selfish self-obsession, indifference and anger…​aaarrrggghhhhh!!!!’ The very great English poet William Wordsworth (who is the subject of the next essay, F. Essay 31 ) was making this point when he wrote, ‘To me the meanest flower that blows can give thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears’ , for it is true that even the plainest flower can remind us of the unbearably depressing issue of our seemingly horrifically imperfect, ‘fallen’ , apparently ‘worthless’ condition. Yes, as the comedian Rod Quantock once said, ‘Thinking can get you into terrible downwards spirals of doubt.’ The Nobel Laureate Albert Camus wasn’t overstating the issue either when he wrote that ‘Beginning to think is beginning to be undermined’ ; nor was another Nobel Prize winner in Literature, Bertrand Russell , when he said, ‘Many people would sooner die than think’ . And nor was the equally acclaimed poet T.S. Eliot when he wrote that ‘human kind cannot bear very much reality’ . ‘The sleep of reason’ , thinking at a deep level, does indeed ‘bring forth monsters’ . (see par. 121 of FREEDOM )

We can see from these comments that to understand human behaviour required bottoming out on the fact that almost all of our behaviour has been driven by our fear of the human condition, and that this fear has resulted in us living an extremely superficial existence.

Portrait photograph of R.D. Laing holding his head in his hands in deep contemplation

R.D. Laing (1927–1989)

Michelangelo’s ‘Isiah’ from the Sistine Chapel

Isaiah (by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel, c. 1512 )

The fact is, the human race has lived a haunted existence, dogged by the dark shadow of its imperfect human condition, forever trying to escape it — the result of which is that we have become immensely superficial and artificial; ‘phony’ and ‘fake’ , as the resigning adolescents so truthfully described it, and living on the absolute meniscus of life in terms of what we are prepared to look at, feel and consider. We are a profoundly estranged or alienated species, completely blocked-off from the amazing and wonderful real world, and from the truth of our self-corruption that thinking about that beautiful, inspired, natural, soulful world unbearably connects us to — as the aforementioned ‘fear’ -lessly honest Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing (these honest words of Laing are the subject of F. Essay 48 ) has written: ‘Our alienation goes to the roots. The realization of this is the essential springboard for any serious reflection on any aspect of present inter-human life…​We are born into a world where alienation awaits us. We are potentially men, but are in an alienated state…​the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a person can be. As adults, we have forgotten most of our childhood, not only its contents but its flavour; as men of the world, we hardly know of the existence of the inner world…​The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one’s mind, is the condition of the normal man…​between us and It [ our true selves or soul] there is a veil which is more like fifty feet of solid concrete…​we have absconded…​The outer divorced from any illumination from the inner is in a state of darkness. We are in an age of darkness. The state of outer darkness is a state of sin — i.e. alienation or estrangement from the inner light…​We are all murderers and prostitutes…​We are bemused and crazed creatures, strangers to our true selves, to one another.’ ‘We are dead, but think we are alive. We are asleep, but think we are awake. We are dreaming, but take our dreams to be reality. We are the halt, lame, blind, deaf, the sick. But we are doubly unconscious. We are so ill that we no longer feel ill, as in many terminal illnesses. We are mad, but have no insight [into the fact of our madness] .’ ‘We are so out of touch with this realm [where the issue of the human condition lies] that many people can now argue seriously that it does not exist.’ (see par. 123 of FREEDOM )

Yes, what did the great prophet Isaiah say about the horrifically corrupted condition of the human race that unresigned adolescents can see: ‘From the sole of your foot to the top of your head there is no soundness — only wounds and welts and open sore…​Your country is desolate…​the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her’ , and ‘the world languishes and withers…​The earth is defiled by its people; they have disobeyed the laws [become divisively rather than integratively behaved] …​In the streets…​all joy turns to gloom, all gaiety is banished from the earth’ (see par. 182 of FREEDOM ).

The cover of With Life In Mind’s first album, titled Grievances with a person being ruthlessly beaten up pleading for help.

The cover of the metal band With Life In Mind 2010 Grievances album

Laing and Isaiah’s honesty is incredible, but what would be really interesting would be to see the world from the pre-resigned position of young adolescents, and we can actually do that because, as described in paragraph 229 of FREEDOM , we have these clearly unresigned, denial-free, honest lyrics from the young American heavy metal band With Life In Mind . Following their debut album, appropriately titled, The Human Condition , in 2010 With Life In Mind released Grievances , which contained the following lyrics: ‘It scares me to death to think of what I have become…​I feel so lost in this world’ , ‘Our innocence is lost’ , ‘I scream to the sky but my words get lost along the way. I can’t express all the hate that’s led me here and all the filth that swallows us whole. I don’t want to be part of all this insanity. Famine and death. Pestilence and war. [Famine, death, pestilence and war are traditional interpretations of the ‘Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse’ described in Revelation 6 in the Bible. Christ referred to similar ‘Signs of the End of the Age’ (Matt. 24:6-8 & Luke 21:10-11 ) .] A world shrouded in darkness…​Fear is driven into our minds everywhere we look’ , ‘Trying so hard for a life with such little purpose…​Lost in oblivion’ , ‘Everything you’ve been told has been a lie…We’ve all been asleep since the beginning of time. Why are we so scared to use our minds?’ , ‘Keep pretending; soon enough things will crumble to the ground…​If they could only see the truth they would coil in disgust’ , ‘How do we save ourselves from this misery…​So desperate for the answers…​We’re straining on the last bit of hope we have left. No one hears our cries. And no one sees us screaming’ , ‘This is the end.’ Saying ‘We’ve all been asleep since the beginning of time’ echoes all that Laing said about the extent of our blocked-out, alienated condition; and saying ‘Everything you’ve been told has been a lie’ reiterates the extent of the dishonest denial in the world, especially in science, today (see Video/​F. Essay 14 & F. Essay 40 ); and saying ‘So desperate for the answers’ confirms ​how incredibly important are all the ‘answers’ about our human condition that are presented in FREEDOM . (For more analysis on the endgame state humanity has now reached, read F. Essay 55 .)

Francis Bacon

Francis Bacon (1909–1992)

Jean-Michel Basquait

Jean-Michel Basquiat (1960–1988)

That Biblical prophet from ancient times, Isaiah, was certainly exceptionally honest, but, given how deeply entrenched denial has become in recent times, both Laing’s and With Life In Mind’s honesty is absolutely astonishing. Another rare example from recent times of someone who managed to depict and penetrate our ‘fifty feet of solid concrete’ wall of denial of the truth of our tortured, ‘good-and-evil’-stricken, soul-devastated, corrupted or ‘fallen’ human condition was the Irish artist Francis Bacon . While people in their resigned state of denial of what the human condition actually is typically find his work ‘enigmatic’ and ‘obscene’ ( The Sydney Morning Herald , 29 Apr. 1992 ) , there is really no mistaking the agony of the human condition in Bacon’s death-mask-like, twisted, smudged, distorted, trodden-on — alienated — faces, and tortured, contorted, stomach-knotted, arms-pinned, psychologically strangled and imprisoned bodies; consider, for instance, his Study for self-portrait below. It is some recognition of the incredible integrity/​honesty of Bacon’s work that in 2013 one of his triptychs sold for $ US142.4 million, becoming (at the time) ‘the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, breaking the previous record, set in May 2012 , when a version of Edvard Munch ’s The Scream [another exceptionally honest, human-condition-revealing painting] sold for $ 119.9 million’ ( TIME , 25 Nov. 2013 ) . ( F. Essay 44 discusses Bacon’s Study for self-portrait and Munch’s The Scream .)

A detail from ‘Study for self-portrait’ by Francis Bacon of a grossly contorted, twisted human torso and head

Detail from Francis Bacon’s Study for self-portrait , 1976

Since FREEDOM was published, and from which the above paragraph is taken (see par. 124 ) , another extraordinarily truthful depiction from recent times of our horrifically psychologically upset and alienated-from-soul condition, American artist Jean-Michel Basquiat ’s 1982 ‘Untitled’ painting (reproduced below, and also included in F. Essay 40 ), was sold in May 2017 for ‘$ US110.5 million’ , which, at the time, was ‘the sixth most expensive artwork ever sold at auction’ ( The New York Times , 18 May 2017 ) . (Incidentally, another human-condition-revealing painting by Basquiat is included in FREEDOM at par. 1059 .)

‘Untitled’ painting by Jean-Michel Basquiat of a crazed and grimacing head figure.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s ‘Untitled’ painting, 1982

It may seem incongruous that people living in denial of the human condition should pay such exorbitant sums for such stark depictions of our psychologically upset state, but living in an almost completely ‘phony’ , ‘fake’ , ‘alienat [ed] …​to the roots’ and truthless world, which FREEDOM reveals we have been, has meant that the honesty about our true state depicted by Bacon, Munch and Basquiat could be immensely valued for its cathartic, purging, purifying, relieving powers.


William Blake’s painting ‘Cringing in Terror’ with arrow to his painting ‘Albion Arose’

William Blake ’s Cringing in Terror (c.1794–96) left, and Albion Arose (c.1794–96) right

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Watch Jeremy Griffith present the breakthrough redeeming explanation of the human condition in THE Interview ; for a fuller explanation read chapter 3 of FREEDOM ; and for a summary presentation of the key ‘instinct vs intellect’ explanation watch Video/​F. Essay 3 . And as mentioned, Video/​F. Essay 4 describes how cooperative, loving and gentle our bonobo-like ape ancestors were — the instinctive memory of which is our moral soul — and how unbearably depressing it has been for us fully conscious, psychologically upset, soul-corrupted, ‘fallen’ humans to not be able, until now, to explain and understand why we corrupted our all-loving innocent soul. You can also read more about what exactly the human condition is in Video/​F. Essay 10 ; and much more about the anguish of Resignation in Freedom Expanded: Book 1 . We also recommend F. Essay 6 : Wonderfully illuminating interviews which also covers the subject of Resignation.

Discussion or comment on this essay is welcomed — see below.

Please Note , if you are online you can read, print, download or listen to (as a podcast) THE Interview , The Great Guilt or any of the following Freedom Essays by clicking on them , or you can find them all at www.humancondition.com .

INTRODUCTION TO THE EXPLANATION & RESOLUTION OF THE HUMAN CONDITION: THE Interview : That Solves The Human Condition And Saves The World! | The Great Guilt that causes the Deaf Effect | Freedom Essay 1 Your block to the most wonderful of all gifts | 2 The false ‘savage instincts’ excuse | 3 THE EXPLANATION of the human condition | 4 The ‘instinct vs intellect’ explanation is obvious – short | 5 The transformation of the human race | 6 Wonderfully illuminating interviews | 7 Praise from Prof. Prosen | 8 “How this ends racism forever” | 9 “This is the real liberation of women” | 10 What exactly is the human condition? | 11 The difficulty of reading FREEDOM and the solution | 12 One hour summarising talk | 13 The WTM Deaf Effect Course | 14 Dishonest biology leads to human extinction | 15 How your life can immediately be transformed | 16 The Shock Of Change | THE BOOKS: 17 Commendations & WTM Centres | 18 FREEDOM chapter synopses | 19 FREEDOM ’s significance by Prof. Prosen | 20 The genius of Transform Your Life | THE OTHER KEY BIOLOGICAL EXPLANATIONS: 21 How did we humans acquire our altruistic moral conscience? | 22 Fossil discoveries evidence our nurtured origins | 23 Integrative Meaning or ‘God’ | 24 How did consciousness emerge in humans? | 25 The truthful biology of life | • Survey seeking feedback | MEN & WOMEN RECONCILED: 26 Men and women reconciled | 27 Human sex and relationships explained | THE END OF RACISM: 28 The end of racism | 29 Can conflict ever end? | RESIGNATION: 30 Resignation | 31 Wordsworth’s all-revealing great poem | MORE ON THE TRANSFORMATION: 32 More on the Transformation | 33 Jeremy on how to become transformed | THE END OF POLITICS: 34 This understanding ends the polarised world of politics | 35 Death by Dogma left-wing threat | 36 Saving Western civilisation from left-wing dogma | 37 The meaning of superhero and disaster films | RELIGION DECIPHERED: 38 Noah’s Ark explained | 39 Christ explained | 40 Judgment Day finally explained | 41 Science’s scorn of religion | MEANING OF ART & CULTURE: 42 Cave paintings | 43 Ceremonial masks explained | 44 Art makes the invisible visible | • Second survey seeking feedback | 45 Prophetic songs | 46 Anne Frank’s faith in human goodness fulfilled | 47 Humour and swearing explained | 48 R.D. Laing’s fearless honesty | ABOUT BIOLOGIST JEREMY GRIFFITH: 49 Jeremy’s biography | 50 Australia’s role | 51 Sir Laurens van der Post’s fabulous vision | 52 Jeremy’s children’s book A Perfect Life | 53 The ‘instinct vs intellect’ explanation is obvious – long | 54 The accusation of hubris | DO WE FAIL OR DO WE MAKE IT? 55 Endgame for the human race | 56 Why there have been ferocious attacks on the WTM | 57 Magnificence of the Transformed State – video 1 | 58 Magnificence of the Transformed State – video 2 | MARKETING: 59 Shouldn’t the WTM’s website be toned down? | 60 The crime of ‘ships at sea’ ‘pocketing the win’ | GENERAL DISCUSSIONS BY JEREMY: 61 General Discussion by Jeremy Aug. 2018 | 62 Jeremy’s Masterpiece Presentation Feb. 2019 | HEALTH & HEALING: 63 Pseudo therapy/healing | 64 Real therapy/healing | From here on are Transformation Affirmations and More Good Info Emails

These essays were created in 2017 - 2021 by Jeremy Griffith, Damon Isherwood, Fiona Cullen-Ward , Brony FitzGerald & Lee Jones of the Sydney WTM Centre. All filming and editing of the videos was carried out by Sydney WTM members James Press & Tess Watson during 2017 - 2021 . Other members of the Sydney WTM Centre are responsible for the distribution and marketing of the videos/​essays, and for providing subscriber support.


By clicking ‘Submit’ you confirm that you have read, understood and accept the WTM’s Terms of Use and Privacy Policy . The WTM will only contact you in relation to this enquiry and will manage all personal information in accordance with its Privacy Policy.

Please note, to ensure constructive discussion we moderate comments (which may take some hours) and may not publish any we feel are motivated by malice, or that make criticisms already addressed and repudiated, or ask questions already prominently answered on our comprehensive website with its many freely available books, essays and FAQs that can be easily searched electronically. Read our Community Guidelines here .

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The Impact Of The Great Resignation On Your Organization

The great resignation is not just a buzzword or trending idea – it’s a very real occurrence that doesn’t seem to be slowing down. as an organization, it’s important to understand how the great resignation is developing, and what this could mean for your business. .

Before you start worrying about losing your entire workforce, let’s take a step back. The Great Resignation doesn’t necessarily mean all of your employees are ready to quit. However, it may mean that your organization should consider new strategies, such as an alumni community platform , to improve retention and career satisfaction. 

We’ll explore how you can do this in our guide below. 

great resignation essay

The Great Resignation: An Overview

The Great Resignation is the phenomenon where mass numbers of workers are leaving their jobs as Covid ends and life returns to a “new normal”. A record number of employees have left their jobs since early 2021. 

In fact, in January 2022 alone, more than 4.3 million employees quit their jobs in the US. This shift results from a ripple effect of the pandemic, where professionals are re-evaluating their careers and leaving their jobs in enormous numbers. These resignation rates are the highest among mid-career employees in the technology and healthcare sectors. 

people using an alumni management platform to discuss the great resignation

Your essential guide to leveraging value from your corporate alumni network .

There is a high demand for workers in the US. The most recent report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics shows a clear job overage, where there are over 5 million more open jobs than there are unemployed people. 

While there are many different factors and theories around why the Great Resignation has taken place, the bottom line is this: there are not enough willing workers available. 

It is important for businesses to understand the effect that this could have, and know how to respond to it. 

great resignation essay

What Does the Great Resignation Mean for Your Organization?

The Great Resignation revealed the trend that an enormous percentage of employed people are actively looking for a new job or career path. As a business, this can be scary. The last thing you want is for your workforce to suddenly disappear, without the ability to find new employees. 

However, instead of looking at the Great Resignation as a “resignation” trend, you can think of this movement as the “great reshuffle”. Employees aren’t just leaving their jobs, they are reshuffling themselves into better positions that align more closely with their career and life/balance goals.

Organizations should look at the Great Resignation from this perspective. Instead of worrying about jobs disappearing, consider how you can reshuffle your organization to better match employees’ interests.

great resignation essay

With this perspective, the Great Resignation could impact your organization by changing roles and departments. Instead of losing employees, you may have to open up new roles and opportunities, focus on upskilling and training, and offer new programs to help employees find more job satisfaction.

This is an opportunity for you to take a closer look at the kind of opportunities that employees currently have available. 

Whether your organization is experiencing the Great Resignation or not, it’s still important to focus on job retention and improving workplace satisfaction. This is the only way to limit the risk and possible impact of the Great Resignation on your organization. 

great resignation essay

How to Improve Retention During the Great Resignation

The Great Resignation can affect any business in any industry, which can be a nerve-wracking thought. However, if you want to limit the chances of the Great Resignation hitting your organization, here are a few strategies you can take to improve employee retention. 

great resignation essay

Provide More Value to Employees

One of the biggest reasons why employees are leaving their jobs is because they feel they aren’t getting enough value from their position. Putting aside things like job perks and work from home policies, employees want to know that their position aligns with their personal values and career goals. 

Employees don’t want to just work for a company. Instead, they want to generate value and have their job add more value to their own life and career development. So, as an organization, you need to think about how you can create this value for employees. 

One way to do this would be to offer improved career development opportunities, like mentorship programs . By creating an engaged professional community and network, your organization can offer more value to employees. 

great resignation essay

Increase Workplace Flexibility

The Great Resignation evolved out of the pandemic. The entire world changed, and employees expect their working environments to mirror this change. 

In today’s world, organizations need to deliver on offering greater levels of flexibility. Things like work-from-home policies and flexible work hours are more important than ever. 

A major driving force behind the great resignation is that employees want to increase their job satisfaction, and a lot of this comes down to workplace flexibility. 

great resignation essay

Create Deeper Connections With Employees

Many employees are leaving their jobs because they don’t feel a genuine human connection in their workplace. 

Instead of simply working for a company, employees want to feel valued, and they want to know that their job involves human relationships and growth opportunities. 

Companies that are able to create more meaningful communities and networks are able to boost employee satisfaction to help increase retention. A great way to do this is through an alumni network . 

great resignation essay

The Great Resignation isn’t something to be afraid of. It just signals a new era of work, where employees are approaching their careers with different mindsets. As an organization, it’s important to be able to respond to this movement effectively. 

By offering employees real value in their work environments, using the right digital platforms , and by that we mean our very own alumni management platform ; and responding to the ever-changing desires of employees, organizations can improve retention. This will help you combat the possible effects of the Great Resignation. We also offer alumni engagement software in the education sector too!

Why not get in touch with us today to see how Aluminate Community Builder can help grow your work community?

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Guest Essay

The Great Resignation Won’t Last Forever

A jobs fair at General Motors in Springville, Tenn. 

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By Justin Wolfers

Mr. Wolfers is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and a host of the “Think Like an Economist” podcast.

For many economists, the American labor market remains a puzzle.

The November jobs report, released on Friday by the Labor Department, shows that the unemployment rate edged down to 4.2 percent and is getting closer to its level before the pandemic. The number of nonfarm payroll jobs rose by 210,000, disappointing expectations of a more rapid recovery. By one estimate , there are still around six million fewer jobs than would have been expected, based on prepandemic trends.

This chill in employment might lead one to conclude the economy’s too cold, while the record numbers of people quitting their jobs might suggest that it’s too hot. And even if the unemployment rate isn’t quite where it should be in a healthy economy, an improving trend suggests that it soon will be.

These mixed signals reflect the fact that some parts of economic life are driven by current conditions, while others are shaped to a greater extent by expectations of a healthier and more prosperous future — unless the Omicron variant knocks the recovery off course.

In a typical business cycle, unemployment “rises like a rocket,” but then “falls like a feather,” declining by only about a tenth each year, according to research by Robert E. Hall of Stanford and Marianna Kudlyak of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. And so when jobs become scarce, workers usually grow anxious and fearful about their prospects for employment.

This fear might lead them to take whatever work they can find and scare those who have jobs from quitting. But a pandemic downturn is different. Think of it more as a reboot than a recession.

Questions about the pandemic

When will the pandemic end? We asked three experts — two immunologists and an epidemiologist — to weigh in on this and some of the hundreds of other questions we’ve gathered from readers recently , including how to make sense of booster and test timing, recommendations for children, whether getting covid is just inevitable and other pressing queries.

How concerning are things like long covid and reinfections? That’s a difficult question to answer definitely, writes the Opinion columnist Zeynep Tufekci, because of the lack of adequate research and support for sufferers , as well as confusion about what the condition even is. She has suggestions for how to approach the problem. Regarding another ongoing Covid danger, that of reinfections , a virologist sets the record straight: “There has yet to be a variant that negates the benefits of vaccines.”

How will the virus continue to change? As a group of scientists who study viruses  explains, “There’s no reason, at least biologically, that the virus won’t continue to evolve.” From a different angle, the science writer David Quammen surveys some of the highly effective tools and techniques that are now available for studying Covid and other viruses , but notes that such knowledge alone won’t blunt the danger.

What could endemic Covid look like? David Wallace Wells writes that by one estimate, 100,000 Americans could die each year  from the coronavirus . Stopping that will require a creative effort to increase and sustain high levels of vaccination. The immunobiologist Akiko Iwasaki writes that new vaccines, particular those delivered through the nose , may be part of the answer.

While the economy’s pandemic-driven malaise might feel as if it has dragged on forever, in reality we have been experiencing an unusually rapid recovery. Starting from April 2020, it took only 17 months for the unemployment rate to fall below 5 percent (from a postwar high of nearly 15 percent), while in the previous three post-recession recoveries, it took 75 months, 26 months, and 59 months. Unemployment never dropped below 5 percent during the prior three recoveries.

The rapid reboot has created a peculiar situation. The economy is still missing millions of jobs. Yet workers remain optimistic.

This optimism is evident in recent surveys from the Conference Board, which show that 58 percent of consumers say jobs are “plentiful,” while only 11 percent say they are “hard to get.” The University of Michigan’s Survey of Consumer Attitudes reveals that a large plurality of workers expect unemployment to continue to fall next year. The Federal Reserve is also optimistic. It predicts that the unemployment rate will fall to 3.5 percent by the end of 2023 — the lowest rate since 1969. Private-sector forecasters tell a similar story .

This optimism during a time of economic weakness explains why this recovery has confounded many economists: They’re accustomed to a pattern where labor-market indicators are either nearly all weak or all strong.

This optimism may also explain why millions of people are not looking for work, which has been an important factor keeping the unemployment rate low. Why rush back if there will be plenty of good jobs available in the near future?

Of course, this isn’t the whole story. The pandemic has made working life harder and less safe in countless ways. And because workers spent less last year even as the government sent out checks to keep them afloat, many more households now have the funds to get by for a few months without work. Workers, then, have the means, the motive and the opportunity to be patient.

That’s why older workers are choosing not to rush back to unsafe workplaces. Parents are choosing to wait for schedules at schools and child care centers to become more reliable. And unhappy workers are telling their bosses to take this job and shove it . They’re confident that better job offers are coming soon. Whether the Omicron variant will displace this confidence remains to be seen.

As bosses have struggled to find workers they’ve been forced to offer higher pay, particularly for low-wage jobs . The result has been a burst of wage gains of the sort that typically only occur when the economy is strong, even though the economy remains relatively weak.

This points to a rather intriguing possibility: Perhaps the expectation that workers will be able to get a better deal in the future is creating the reality that they’re getting a better deal today.

Justin Wolfers is a professor of economics and public policy at the University of Michigan and a host of the “Think Like an Economist” podcast.

The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here are some tips . And here’s our email: [email protected] .

Follow The New York Times Opinion section on Facebook , Twitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram .

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Great Resignation

Why in News

Recently, in the aftermath of Covid-19 , large numbers of people are embracing the credo of “antiwork”, and walking out of their jobs, especially in the US and European countries.

great resignation essay


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