The Great Resignation – Moving On and Moving Up

When the COVID-19 Pandemic ground the gears of the world to a screeching halt in March of 2020, I do not think I was alone in dreaming of the day when we could get back to normal.  Yet “normal” is an ever-evolving concept, and many of us may not recognize our post-pandemic selves.

Major crises have a way of refocusing our attention. One day you might be mildly irritated that your favorite brand of toilet paper is not available in the 36-roll quantity and the next day you find yourself locking your arms around a six-roll package and running to the checkout before a horde of crazed shoppers pries it from your grip.

Nearly everyone I know has had a family member come down with one of the five major variants of COVID-19 and many have lost a family member to the disease. Normal may be normal, but it is not going to turn back the hands of time. We can only go forward, and so we need to understand what is happening. Discovering why things happen can help us chart our course for the future. This series will attempt to explain the Great Resignation, which is a contributor to inflation, but not its only cause.

What does that term encompass? Despite what pundits might have you believe, it is not one simple thing causing people to change jobs or retire. Just as a mighty river is a confluence of many babbling brooks and crooked creeks, the sources of the Great Resignation are at once demographic, generational, and cultural. Understanding those sources may give us clues on how to better manage it. 

Job Changers – Moving out and up

The so-called Great Resignation might more accurately be called the Great Re-examination. The Pandemic isolation removed distractions and allowed us the time to re-evaluate how we were spending the precious days of our lives. For many of the baby boomers, that “someday” when they were ready for retirement, finally arrived.

Since these retirees often occupied senior positions in their companies, younger workers could advance to those management roles. This is particularly true for Senior positions that could not work remotely such as medicine, public health, and infrastructure workers (for example, local governmental employees running essential services). 

Senior positions are more likely to attract candidates from all over the country. While many of the relocations during the Pandemic were city apartment dwellers moving to suburbs and exurbs with reliable internet access for telecommuting, a fair number of relocations were for younger workers moving up the chain of command in hospitals and cities all over the country. 

Skill changers and those who have found the value in honest work

For laid-off workers formerly earning the minimum wage, their government assistance provided more income than their former paycheck. No surprise here: the last time the minimum wage was raised was in 2009. Between then and now average rent has increased 50% (from $934 per month to $1,409 in Q4, 2019).1 Many low wage workers used the government assistance period to learn new skills on-line. Instead of going back to the same low-wage job, they secured a job in a new field. Others demanded more of the employers who called them back to work.

Recently, Amazon and Starbucks employees formed unions. John Deere employees, tired of watching shareholders and company executives receive the lion’s share the profits the manufacturing employees created, staged a walkout. While all these companies offer employees health benefits and some other employee benefits, the employees could see the inequities in compensation.

In the case of Amazon, there was probably nothing quite so effective in demonstrating the gulf between Jeff Bezos’s compensation and that of his employees than the rocket he rode into the stratosphere–literally.

1 U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, National Comprehensive Housing Analysis as of January, 2020.

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