Was the Great Resignation a symptom of a deeper problem in society?

During and after the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic, it was common to see headlines highlighting the “Great Resignation”, which referred to a dramatic spike in people leaving their jobs during 2021-2022. This movement was largely due to an increase in Employee Rights awareness.

Was this a generational issue, fear for public health, or a cultural shift caused by years of low workplace standards? We explore the true societal problem behind this unprecedented occurrence. 

Workplace standards – what’s normal?

Before looking at the Great Resignation itself, it is important to acknowledge that this was not caused solely by a lack of gratitude or privilege. The truth is that workplaces have slowly been offering employees less while expecting more. This has been especially prevalent since the last Great Recession between 2007-2009. With fewer jobs being available, competition became fiercer, and employees accepted less simply to get on the career ladder. This can be seen at all levels, from care workers on zero-hours contracts to freshly qualified law students being offered low wages for long hours to prove themselves. 

A new generation

While Millennials emerged into a world where there were more people than jobs, Generation Z came of age during slightly more stable times (at least to begin with). With extreme online awareness, younger Millennials and older Gen Z employees (now in their mid-20s) expect more from employers, and this was only exacerbated in 2020. 

The role of the Covid-19 pandemic

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, flexible working became normal. This meant that employers’ outdated low standards had to be brought in line with modern expectations. For example, “having” to work from an office to access files was replaced with digital cloud connectivity. This flexibility would not soon be forgotten, and when employers asked employees to go back to the office, many simply left their roles instead. 

Quiet quitting and changing expectations

In a world that is now trying to navigate post-pandemic life, expectations are changing. Many cited a “life’s too short” mentality and moved out of roles they weren’t happy with, actively seeking jobs that offered more benefits, security and flexibility. 

However, even those who are still in workplaces that haven’t changed are now “quiet quitting”. This is the practice of simply doing your job, and not going above and beyond without extra recognition, pay or progression. While this may sound reasonable enough, the lack of free labour is presenting employers with quite a conundrum – move with the times or lose great staff? 

As we move into a new landscape of workplace expectations, it seems possible that the Great Resignation and Quiet Quitting signal a cultural movement towards better working conditions for everyone. But it will take more than just a single group to make this happen. So, will this be a truly long-term change? Only time will tell.

Leadership Development

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