The Great Resignation: Another COVID-19 Phenomenon For The History Books

Graphic by Eric Estibeiro

The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the world. People around the globe as forced to get used to drastic adjustments and changes that occurred rapidly from the global dynamic to their personal lives, from the economy being deeply affected to educational institutions needing to find new modes of conducting classes. One of the most heavily impacted sectors was the labour market. With quarantine and lockdowns imposed, multitudes of employees got furloughed, lost their jobs, and many realised their dissatisfaction with their current work environment.

In 2021, Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist, coined the term the Great Resignation to predict pent-up resignations due to COVID-19. It is an ongoing phenomenon that has seen a record number of people voluntarily quitting their jobs after the pandemic. Also called the Big Quit, this phenomenon was attributed to a number of reasons apart from furloughs and salary slashes. With many employees being laid off, there arose a need to upskill oneself to adapt to the new situation. This brought attention to the absence of opportunities to develop new skills or enhance one’s existing ones.

Due to lockdowns, organizations shifted to the online mode and employees worked from home. This resulted in overtime shifts, burnout, and intensification of unhealthy work cultures like the hustle culture which encourages employees to go well above and beyond their job requirements and carry out responsibilities that fall outside of their work purview. Factors like working overtime also brought out a need and desire for higher pay. A recent trend has witnessed people countering the hustle culture with “Quiet Quitting” where instead of letting one’s job define their life people decline calls after work hours, refuse to reply to emails on their time off from work, and reject assignments that fall outside of their job description.

In India, the middle-class and lower-income communities were hit hard. Manual labourers, migrant workers, etc were suddenly let off and dislocated from their hometowns. The shift in corporate culture, loss of jobs due to the requirement for social distancing, hiring processes reaching a standstill, and restricted leave resulted in many employees leaving the workforce for good. India witnessed large percentages of employees choosing a suitable work-life balance over an attractive salary. There was a notable shift in the priorities ascribed to one’s well-being and work-life balance. The mass layoffs also triggered a trend which saw employees adapting to the new situation by developing new skills and switching career paths which led to the great resignation being called the “Great Reshuffle” in India. After the economic disruption caused by the pandemic, employees across industries re-evaluated their priorities and expectations from their careers. There was an increased emphasis on having more control over one’s work dynamic and a shift in job seekers’ priorities. The pandemic granted employees a period of reflection to re-examine their career paths. There was an increased presence of opportunities for freelance jobs and remote jobs, and opportunities to upskill and work flexible hours. People gained more freedom to maintain their desired work-life balance and developed the confidence to quit their jobs and start over at their own pace.

A demand for work from home has pushed organisations to rethink their work culture. Many organisations and firms have embraced this change and expect that employees will be given more freedom to work remotely, flexible schedules with learning opportunities and with salaries more suitable to their job requirements. With the online mode of work from home becoming more widespread, office buildings may be primarily used for the purpose of recruitments, meeting customers or clients, and conducting workshops for interpersonal engagement among employees. These recent changes and trends point towards a future of a more flexible approach that allows for an increasingly individualistic and asynchronous work setting.

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