The Great Resignation: Fueled by Selfishness or Burnout? - Spring2 Innovation

The Great Resignation: Fueled by Selfishness or Burnout?

August 21, 2023

In recent years, the job market has witnessed a significant and unprecedented phenomenon known as “The Great Resignation.” World Economic Forum records a record 3% resignation rate as of 2020. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, large numbers of employees across various industries have voluntarily decided to leave their jobs, sparking debates about the root causes behind this mass exodus. Some argue that this wave of resignations is driven by selfishness, an unwillingness to adapt, and unrealistic expectations. On the other hand, it is  suggested that burnout and dissatisfaction with traditional work models are the driving forces behind this movement. 


The Great Resignation: Understanding the Trend

Emerging around 2020 and gaining momentum over the following years, “The Great Resignation” has been a rapidly growing trend. Initially fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent shifts in work dynamics, employees began reevaluating their priorities and seeking new opportunities. With remote work on the rise and traditional office jobs seemingly on their way out, American companies are seeing a record number of open positions as a result of this mass resignation. Professor Anthony Klots of Texas A&M University notes two trends in resignation rates: they are highest among mid-career employees, and those in the tech and healthcare industries. These rates appear to be due to the excess pressure put on these particular workers throughout the pandemic, but employees everywhere are feeling the pressure. While the pandemic acted as a catalyst, it is essential to analyze what is causing employees to drop their developed careers and turn to alternative work styles. Is this trend a result of employee burnout or of personal greed?


Selfishness: A Perspective

The changing workforce has, over the past several years, shifted to allow for a more employee-centric approach to work, where it is easier for employees to hold multiple jobs that allow for asynchronous work with flexible hours, rather than the traditional 9-5. Critics often argue that the popularity of this shift is rooted in selfishness and entitlement. They believe that employees, particularly the younger generation, have unrealistic expectations and are unwilling to commit to the challenges of traditional work environments. Some claim that the desire for instant gratification, higher pay, and quick career advancements drives individuals to jump from one job to another without considering the consequences. Moreover, critics point to the culture of job-hopping, where loyalty to an organization seems to be diminishing.


Burnout: A Counterview

Proponents of the burnout argument contend that the great resignation is an inevitable consequence of modern work culture. Over the years, employees have faced mounting pressures, increased workload, and diminishing work-life balance. BBC Worklife calls out the danger of overwork culture, pointing out the rise in unpaid overtime hours weekly, employees averaging 9.2 hours in 2021, a jarring increase from 7.3 hours the previous year. With modern technology becoming so deeply integrated into our lives, the ability to perform career tasks anytime, and from anywhere, is seeing the “boundaries between our personal and professional lives dissolve,” resulting in widespread burnout. The prolonged work-from-home scenarios during the pandemic further blurred the boundaries between personal and professional lives, contributing to this exhaustion.


The Need for Work-Life Integration

To truly understand the reasons behind the great resignation, it is essential to recognize the importance of work-life integration rather than a mere work-life balance. Modern employees are seeking a better blend of their personal and professional lives, where their work contributes to their overall well-being and fulfillment. A sense of purpose and a positive work environment are becoming crucial aspects that employees seek in their careers.

Another significant factor driving the great resignation is the growing need for meaningful work. Employees, especially millennials and Gen Z, place a high value on finding jobs that align with their values and make a positive impact on society. When they feel their contributions are undervalued or their roles lack purpose, they are more likely to seek alternative opportunities that fulfill their aspirations.

For organizations to tackle the great resignation, they must prioritize employee well-being, offer meaningful work opportunities, and adapt to the changing demands of the modern workforce. Employing aspects of design thinking, we can contribute to a better employment experience, future-proofing the labor force and initiating collaborative movements towards creating a better working environment in which employees feel fulfilled, understood, and at ease. 

Check out our blog on Raises Won’t Raise Your Employee’s Happiness to learn more on this topic!

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