The biggest news story of the last two-and-a-half years has clearly been COVID. The Great Resignation comes in a close second. Since the start of the pandemic, tens of millions of people have left their jobs in search of better opportunities via new employers, contract work, or starting their own businesses.
It seems as though a lot of people have been surprised by the Great Resignation. But why? It is consistent with America’s history. It is consistent with our fierce independence and our ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ mentality.
The Great Resignations Roots
Understanding the roots of the Great Resignation takes away a lot of the surprise associated with it. In its analysis of the Great Resignation back in January 2022, Dallas-based BenefitMall explained that post-pandemic employees have decided that the old work model doesn’t suit them anymore.
That model is based on the employer maintaining control at all times. The employer sets the schedule; the employer determines wages and benefits; the employer assigns work and determines how and when it will be done.
Dissatisfaction with the old model is easily encapsulated in a term that is starting to bug workers: human resources. Employees are people. They are people with lives and relationships outside of work. They are not mere resources to be utilized in the same manner as office supplies and manufacturing materials.
Independence Is in Our DNA
BenefitMall’s analysis suggests that the Great Resignation is being driven by a desire for more independence. Employees want more control over their work lives. They are tired of being controlled by corporate entities whose entire existence stands on satisfying shareholders.
None of this should surprise anyone. As Americans, independence is in our DNA. Our nation was founded on the idea. Colonists, no longer willing to allow their lives to be controlled by a monarchy thousands of miles away, decided they had had enough. Their independence movement was a movement to take back their lives.
We saw something similar with the labor movement of the early 20th century. Factory workers and other manual laborers tired of being controlled by their employers banded together and unionized. They took back control and, in so doing, forced changes in the law designed to prevent future abuse.
COVID Was the Breaking Point
One of the most uncomfortable truths of nature is that there is no such thing as true equality. In any relationship, one party is stronger than the other, even if just marginally. That is certainly true in the employer-employee relationship.
Left unchecked, an imbalanced employer-employee relationship continues to lean further in the employer’s direction. But at some point, the employee reaches a breaking point. That is exactly what happened when the labor movement was born.
The breaking point that ushered in the Great Resignation was COVID. Long months of remote work and social isolation encouraged people to step back and reconsider what is most important in life. Millions decided that work was no longer their number one priority.
A Workplace Forever Changed
History will prove that COVID did more than introduce a new virus that will forever be endemic. It will also prove that the workplace has forever changed. COVID made it clear to a lot of employees that their lives were too tightly controlled by their work.
The Great Resignation will be analyzed from every possible angle in the coming years. Sociologists, anthropologists, and politicians will all add their own spins. But in the end, its reality shouldn’t surprise anyone. The Great Resignation was bound to happen at some point, simply because it was a manifestation of the American spirit.