Written By: Anton Sawyer
The Great Resignation Will Result In The Largest Impact On The US Workforces For Generations To Come
I know, I know. “What about The Great Recession of 2008?!”
That’s going to be the immediate response from those who read the title and think that I have forgotten about that grim era of American history. The Wall Street collapse which caused the Great Recession in 2008 and its results have not been forgotten. It was the greatest stock market drop in US history since the Black Tuesday Stock Market Crash of 1929 and I was an adult when it happened … so, it’s hard to forget. You have to remember though, the crash in 2008 had been brought about by Bush-era policies of de-regulations, a market that was running wild, and banking schemes that were utterly breathtaking. Whereas the 2021 Great Resignation is completely self-inflicted, adding an additional dimension to the unemployment rates that haven’t been found in recent American economic calamities.
That’s what today’s article is going to look at; what exactly the Great Resignation is, what the possible root causes are, and how I jumped in head-first about eight months ago.
In an attempt to maintain complete transparency, all research and statistical fact-checking for this article, and all articles, can be found at our site's bibliography linked here.
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If you are unfamiliar with what the Great Resignation (TGR) is, it’s a pretty simple concept to understand. At its core, it’s a generation of people who have decided to leave their jobs en masse.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, four million Americans quit their jobs in July 2021, causing a record-breaking 10.9 million open jobs by the end of the same month. Though the resignations peaked in April, they remained abnormally high for months afterward. Harvard Business Review released a report in September 2021 examining the reasons behind this high level of workers quitting their jobs. Though a few reasons were pointed out, the most telling of the findings was that many of these workers may have simply reached a breaking point after months and months of high workload, hiring freezes, and other pressures, causing them to rethink their balance of work and personal life goals.
This thought process seems to be justified in the fact that resignations are highest in the tech and health care industries. The report shows that 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, the study 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.
The conservative response since these giant resignation numbers began trickling in, has been to blame enhanced unemployment benefits. Their thought process is that people are generally lazy, don’t want to work, and that anyone who is not a republican has the ultimate goal of gaming the system completely. The reality is that those enhanced benefits ended for millions of Americans beginning in September of 2021, and as of this writing have been pretty much eradicated on a federal level—though there are states and other municipalities which have enacted their own versions of these benefits on a local level.
Of course, as any grown-up in the workforce knows, there’s a big difference between what you are told are the “statistical realities” of something versus how things actually happen in a living, breathing work environment.
Recently in Utah, an independent Subway Sandwich franchise owner had to pull her 16-year-old out of school to come work in the store because of staffing shortages. Off-topic: I understand we’re living in the 20s, but not the 1820s; have we regressed to such a point where we now have to pull kids from school to come start their lives attached to the same life-long yoke of their parents like some eternal punishment as we did once before the proliferation of … electricity?
Subway owner Sharon Cockayne told the Utah Fox affiliate (FOX13) that she wanted to hire three people at her store near Salt Lake City International Airport but wasn't getting any applications. "I've brought my 16-year-old son in after pulling him out of school once, my boyfriend has come in to help me, it's gotten to that point," she said. "It's scary."
Not only did the study above mention healthcare workers being burned out and quitting in large numbers, an October 2021 Business Insider study showed that restaurants are also being crushed by labor shortages. In their research, polling showed that 85% of restaurant owners said it was "very difficult" to find staff, while only 3% said they weren't struggling to hire. Because of the service industry being hit so hard (which I have written about previously), many foodservice industries are increasing wages, benefits … almost anything to get people into a uniform and on the clock. In fact, Wisconsin’s State Senate recently approved a bill that would allow 14- and 15-year-olds to work until 11 PM on some days. I can tell you that from personal experience (along with the recent resignation to my long-term job), something has to be done if retention is going to be at all possible.
As someone who worked a decade doing customer service over the phone ranging from taking supervisor calls for satellite tech, to health supplements, I thought that I was going to spend the rest of my working life on the phones. Well … at least until I was able to make enough money from my former music journalism career to stop the need for taking calls. It appears I was wrong as the supplement company was the last inbound telemarketing corporation I would ever take a call for. Though the last four years of my customer service tenure with the health supplement company was the highest paying one I’d ever had (along with full benefits and all the Christmas trimmings), it wasn’t enough to keep me on the phones and being treated like human garbage.
Before beginning the chorus of “you’re doing customer service, you’re going to get treated like crap” keep in mind I worked for the DirecTv Satellite billing and tech department on September 11th, 2001—years before ever taking an incredibly escalated/supervisor call. That day we were never fewer than 600 people in queue, and the stress of it all broke some people completely down emotionally. In my experience that day, I would take a call from someone who had their TV turned off due to non-payment, and because it was on an automatic computer system, it would lock, and I couldn’t turn it back on until payment was received. People would be screaming, crying, begging for me to help them because they had family that worked in the towers and needed to know if they were alive or not. You cannot imagine the toll it can take when you can literally do nothing to help them. Yet, after all of that, it was the people I had to deal with for the entirety of 2020 and 2021 during the Covid epidemic that got me to join the Great Resignation.
It is these experiences I had during the epidemic that is going to turn this piece into the first of a series. Every underlying reason that led to my resigning—contracting Covid, dealing with the aftermath of the illness, and working from home, all while witnessing the depths that humanity can reach with its own arrogance—will be examined. Also, the consequences of this choice—i.e. having thrown myself in the middle of a pay cut, new job dealing directly with the aforementioned restaurant/service industry via DoorDash, a completely unknown future financial situation, and navigating the realities of the forms and different government entities that have thrust themselves into my life to one degree or another—will be written about from time to time over the foreseeable future.
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The Great Resignation has many layers to its complexity. Whether burnout, the need for millions of Americans to change their lives for emotional or mental health issues, or something as simple as money, I can’t see it fading away any time soon. With so many fast-food places opening their wallets and supply chain to health care, you know that the situation is dire. I’m hoping that when it’s all said and done, we can figure out the root causes and how they may be leading us to what the future of the American workforce could look like in a generation or two.
Until then, I’m just your friendly guide …
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