The Great Resignation: Why Are Employees Leaving The Workforce In Droves?

I’ve always heard and read about job loyalty. It was something that I dreamed of. It seemed like a piece of the American Dream. A JOB – but not just a job, a work family. It could be a place where I’d survive and thrive for my whole career until retirement. It seemed so simple, and of course, there was a reason why I hoped for that safe and long-term career, with job security and loyalty.  

My parents never had job security when I was growing up. We moved around a lot, always following the next job or opportunity. The idea of having one job and living in one place sounded wonderful. But, now, job loyalty appears to be gone. Or maybe it’s just that we’ve evolved into a society that expects transiency.


What Is The Great Resignation?

The “Great Resignation” phenomenon has been trending for months, with labor experts and economists weighing in on what it means for companies and employees. The Great Resignation is a revolution brought about by the mass walk-outs of millions of American workers. Dr. Laura Hamill, chief science advisor at Limeade, explained the unprecedented exodus by saying: “There was a societal breakdown when it came to the ecosystem of work, home and well-being. People reached their limits.” 

Yes, we’ve all heard that more than 10 million jobs were available in August, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. There ARE jobs available. LOTS of them. There’s even a war for talent, where employers may be offering higher wages, bonuses, perks, and benefits to woo high-caliber candidates. But, all that good news thinly veils a devastating undercurrent of brutal realities that has long been affecting workers.

Workers struggle with mental health, burnout, job dissatisfaction, organizational changes, discrimination, insufficient benefits, and feeling undervalued. None of these struggles are new or unexpected. Work is not always easy, and some employment situations are more challenging than others. In the past, though, workers would “grin and bear it,” while secretly gossiping about how much they hated it and searching for a different job. 

So, if it’s been a struggle for years, even decades, what changed? Do we need to rethink the whole concept of job loyalty? In my mind, The Great Resignation raises questions about job loyalty. Our parents worked their hearts out at jobs and said they were loyal to the company; what does that really mean in hindsight? Were they really loyal or just dealing with the struggles because it was necessary for survival? 

What Is Job Loyalty? 

Job loyalty always seemed like a basic concept. Employees are dedicated to the success of the company. It could even be that they’re devoted to the company, its goals and mission. In my mind, I envision the 24/7 type of work ethic, but I do realize that it doesn’t have to be that type of obsessive and unhealthy work relationship. Job loyalty could just mean that an employee goes to work on time every day and completes their work to the best of their ability. 

Of course, that basic idea of job loyalty no longer appears to be as viable in the context of The Great Resignation. Employees are and have been “loyal” and dedicated to the company that they were working for, but it did not mean they had a job through the pandemic. Loyalty did not save workers from layoffs, nor did it prevent employees from leaving companies in pursuit of other opportunities.

Work, Loyalty & Resignation – Why Now?

With that huge shake-up in the labor market, it’s not surprising or shocking that we’ve all been affected. What is surprising is that the upheaval around work, the question of loyalty, and the continued and growing number of resignations was NOT a brief blip on the radar of the American workforce. 

COVID-19 hit us all probably more than we realize. It feels a bit like we’re all still in a state of PTSD, just trying to figure out what to do next. Julia Pollak, chief economist of ZipRecruiter, says, “This is not just a temporary shock to the labor market but a permanent shock that has caused a lot of changes.” The companies that are surviving and thriving right now tend to be the ones that have already felt the pain points over the last year of rethinking labor and how to survive. 

Most of the “successful” companies took a step back early on in the pandemic. They reevaluated EVERYTHING about their work force, including where and how it could successfully continue to work. In most cases, they realized that they had to make difficult decisions if they were going to survive. They didn’t have a choice, but they didn’t stop there. They have continued to evolve, while supporting workers with the tools and resources they need to function successfully in this new, mostly remote work space. 

After a year of layoffs, labor shortages, looking for work, and just trying to survive, workers are in a different place right now. The workplace has permanently changed for many workers. And, if it hasn’t changed for you, you may be looking for a change as another participant of The Great Resignation. 

In years past, workers would often look for work and leave if another opportunity presented itself. But, the timing and strategy behind the movement of workers between jobs has changed, and the workers’ expectations have changed. Workers are expressing their needs and wants, and some companies are listening and delivering upon those requests. Here are just a few of the driving forces behind The Great Resignation and that mass walk-out. 

Adequate Pay

Did you guess that one of the reasons is PAY? Yep, it makes sense that pay would be and will continue to be a consideration. Moreover, workers now appear to have some power in that regard. They can and will ask for higher salaries, particularly in those industries that are currently desperate to find qualified workers. They are demanding higher pay, and they are marketing themselves. But, it’s much more than that. They are putting themselves up for bid to whatever company will offer the highest salary and best benefits. In the current job market, minimum wage just won’t cut it anymore. So, employees are quitting those low-paying jobs, with desperate hope that they will find something better. 

Need For Flexibility

Even in the best of times, flexibility is a key factor in employee loyalty and satisfaction; now, it’s also a big reason for The Great Resignation. Over the last year, flexibility took on a whole new dimension and continues to be an important consideration. Even with schools in session and daycares mostly back, the increased demands continue for remote or hybrid work options that better support work-life balance as well as health and safety concerns. 

Increased Worry

Studies indicate that women are increasingly worried about how their need for flexibility and the demands of caregiving will impact their jobs. It’s often linked with micromanagement and a lack of trust in the organization, but that worry leads to discomfort and a feeling of being “pushed out” of the job. When that worry continues, or appears to show signs of worsening, the break could just mean the worker will quit, or it could mean that the workers will begin to demand for change.

Health Concerns

Concerns about health and wellness both in the workplace and in remote situations have become paramount for some workers. As many as 54% of workers have left jobs because of concerns about how they were treated during the pandemic, but also because companies are continuing to demand more work from fewer workers. As employees are more aware of the concerns of mental health and burn-out, they’re being more proactive about their own mental and physical health. 

Increased Divide Or Chasm Around Children

Compounding the issue of work-life balance, there’s also an oft-unspoken rift between those employees who are parents and those who aren’t. That feeling of unfairness when it comes to work distribution and accommodation can impact the employee loyalty of parents as well as non-parents. While there have been hard feelings on both sides, companies are also coming up with creative solutions that allow workers to pursue their hobbies and/or accommodate the needs of parents.

That can mean something as simple as early days off for parents and non-parents alike on holidays and parent-teacher conferences. It can mean encouraging time off for hobbies and personal enrichment. By supporting creative outlets and parenthood equally, employers are encouraging a better work-life balance, but also removing the negative impression that a parent or non-parent is receiving preferential treatment, unfair advantage, or a more lenient work load just because of their lifestyle and/parental status. 

Alternative Options

Traditional workplace options are no longer the only answer for workers, and that’s a big reason for the mass walk-outs from jobs. Workers can explore their passions with remote and virtual situations that were frankly unimagined even a year ago. It’s a brave new world, and it will be fraught with more shake-up and volatility as we all figure this new landscape out. There are and will continue to be MORE self-made opportunities than ever before. It may seem scary for workers who have never thought outside the 9-to-5 box, but it also points to a future that’s ripe with boundless possibilities. 

What Do We Expect Will Happen?  

So, what? Will this last forever? Is it unrealistic to expect a company to treat you like family? Should they really be accommodating all your needs? Is it “entitled” to expect fair accommodation, an equitable division of labor, and equal pay? Or should we all just suck it up, hire a nanny, and get on with the business of work? (It doesn’t sound very cheerful, does it?) 

There are no easy answers, and it’s difficult to even forecast what the full impact of the pandemic conditions will be on women. I continue to scour the research, studies and polls, hoping that the tide is turning. And maybe it’s coming. Maybe.  

We seem to be seeing an evolution in the workplace, one where we now have the ammunition and wherewithal to better advocate for our own needs. Honestly, that’s GOT to be a positive turn, right? Unfortunately, that evolution requires a certain level of technological knowledge and understanding about the current career landscape, advocacy, connection.

It’s not easy for older employees and employers to change. Some are faced with what they see as an insurmountable technological challenge. After a lifetime of quality work, every worker is now being asked to jump into the deep end of digital immersion. The extreme expectations of the digital divide are severely limiting for both workers and the companies they work for, tied as it often is to an inability to accept and/or implement tools that could support a better work-life balance. 

In her opinion piece for CNN, Jill Filipovic says: “This system — obscene workplace expectations coupled with few worker protections, no cultural commitment to having a right to life outside of work, and an unspoken conclusion that we all choose our choices and just have to figure it out on our own — is terrible for everyone.”  

But, don’t we have to figure it out anyway? It could be that the system is so broken that employee loyalty really is dead and gone, but that still means that we have to figure out how we’ll survive and thrive in these uncertain times, and with The Great Resignation as a constant consideration. The system has changed, but it still has a long way to go before we could even pretend that it’s fair and equitable for all.

Still, if The Great Resignation has taught us anything, it’s that workers have more power than most of us knew or wanted to think about. As side notes along the way, over the last year (and increasingly over the last few months), we’ve seen the power that workers are taking in their own hands with walk-outs and challenges in and out of court. 

With such a dramatic shift toward remote and virtual work opportunities, the blogosphere and digital realms will never be the same. We can connect, communicate, and collaborate in ways that we could never have imagined before. And, whether companies like it or not, we’re moving toward something that feels a bit like a science fiction utopia — a level playing field built and brought about by technological innovation, collaboration, and connection that’s made possible by our current worker revolution. 


What are your thoughts about employee loyalty and the current state of women at work? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

If You Liked This Article, You Should Check These Out:

Naomi Osaka Was Forced Out Of The French Open, And The Reason Is Problematic

Women Are Tackling New Opportunities In The NFL

Join the Conversation