- The Great Resignation occurred in 2020 and 2021. However, its impact was not uniform; it affected specific geographies, industries, and workforce categories.
- The Great Resignation does not fully explain the current state of the world of work, leading to numerous alternative terms emerging. This has resulted in more confusion than clarity for people-centric leaders who aspire to understand and act on the new realities of work.
- Welcome to Workforce 4.0, a workforce movement that emerged over a decade ago.
This is the first in a two-part series of articles on “Myths & Truths about the Great Resignation.”
What is the Great Resignation?
Since the start of the pandemic, the term "Great Resignation" has been extensively covered in the press, urging leaders to be prepared for forthcoming waves of resignations.
The Great Resignation was coined by university professor Anthony Klotz, who argued that when uncertainty prevails, people tend to stay put, leading to a backlog of resignations that would have otherwise occurred.
In simpler terms, due to the negative economic consequences of the pandemic, workers became more risk-averse towards switching employers. Instead, unhappy workers chose to stick with their current employers until economic conditions improved. Once the situation ameliorated, employees sought better opportunities and left their current jobs for more promising work and organisations.
While the Great Resignation affected various parts of the world of work, what may surprise many is that the Great Resignation, in essence, began more than a decade ago.
When One Article is Worth More Than a Hundred
One article by Harvard Business School Professors Joseph B. Fuller and William R. Kerr says it all: The Great Resignation Didn't Start with the Pandemic1.
A compelling graph reinforces their point: the Great Resignation didn't start with the pandemic.
What does this research tell us?
Their analysis validated Klotz's prediction, as the percentage of workers leaving their employers declined in 2020 due to risk aversion and unfavourable market conditions. However, one year later, the rate of workers quitting their employers surpassed linear forecasts, confirming that the expected resignations of 2020 were delayed to 2021.
Moreover, the research highlighted a consistent upward trend in workers voluntarily leaving their organisations over the past decade. This reveals that the Great Resignation is insufficient to explain the dynamics of the workforce over the last ten years. Instead, it has paved the way for a new era, which shows no signs of slowing down in 2022.
The (Useless) Race of Renaming the Great Resignation
Numerous stakeholders, including consultancies, the press, politicians, professional associations, tech companies, and unions, have attempted to coin alternative names for the Great Resignation.
Apologies for the next paragraph. Feel free to skip.
The Great Attraction. The Great Discontent. The Great Exhaustion. The Great Migration. The Great Realignment. The Great Realization. The Great Reconnection. The Great Reconsideration. The Great Reengagement. The Great Reevaluation. The Great Regeneration. The Great Relearning. The Great Renegotiation. The Great Reshuffle. The Great Retention. The Great Rethink. The Great Retirement. The Great Reset. The Great Revolt. The Great Upgrade.
What does this list tell us?
This list represents an effort to describe the emerging realities of the workforce, which the Great Resignation fails to fully explain. Regrettably, this ever-growing list* tends to create more confusion than clarity for people-centric leaders seeking to grasp and respond to these new work dynamics.
Here is our perspective on bringing clarity:
Throughout the 20 entries (see Appendix), a consistent theme emerges:
Workers are undergoing profound introspection, redefining their priorities concerning what truly matters in their personal and professional lives.
Welcome to Workforce 4.0—a fundamental shift in the workforce across geographies, cultures, and generations. This transformative movement initiated over a decade ago, but the pandemic significantly accelerated its pace.
The new world of work is here2. The future of work is now3. Right here, right now4.
The Battle for Talent: Great Resignation vs. Workforce 4.0
Leaders face the daunting task of choosing their battleground in the ongoing war for talent. While the Great Resignation is an important consideration, the emergence of Workforce 4.0 calls for a holistic approach in understanding and responding to the needs and aspirations of the modern workforce.
The choice is clear. Embracing Workforce 4.0 is not just a strategic move; it is a transformational journey that will shape the future of work and lead to organisational excellence.
Two battles to win the war, but you can only choose one.
The choice is yours.
Pick your battle.
Now or never.
Our next article of this three-part series will cover the wants, needs, and priorities of Workforce 4.0.
Tanguy Dulac is the Founder & CEO of PeopleCentriX, a research and advisory firm that empowers leaders shape a future-fit world of work. If you want to connect, please reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Some words that inspired me during my writing experience
- Joseph Fuller & William Kerr. The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic. Harvard Business Review (2022).
- Peter Cheese. The New World of Work: Shaping a Future That Helps People, Organizations and Our Societies to Thrive. (Kogan Page, 2021).
- Jacob Morgan. The Future of Work: Attract New Talent, Build Better Leaders, and Create a Competitive Organization. (John Wiley & Sons, 2014).
- Fatboy Slim. You’ve Come a Long Way Baby. (BMG, 1998).
Some sounds that inspired me during my writing experience
- Bruce Brubaker, Max Cooper (2020). Glassforms. InFiné.
- Joep Beving (2021). ZERO (Hanging D Remixes). Deutsche Grammophon.
- Max Cooper (2019). Yearning for the Infinite. Mesh.
The Great Attraction
… brings an opportunity for organizations to redefine how they can better address the attraction challenge.
The Great Discontent
… is explained by workers leaving their current job because of dissatisfaction with various aspects of the work and the organization
The Great Exhaustion
… is explained by workers leaving their current job because of physical and psychological exhaustion.
The Great Migration
… is explained by workers migrating from “crummy jobs” to “better jobs” and from “companies that don’t seem to care” to “companies that really care”.
The Great Realignment
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search of better alignment with values, priorities, needs, and choices.
The Great Realization
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search of more control and deciding to become independent.
The Great Reconnection
… brings an opportunity for organizations and workers to reconnect to what matters to them and their key stakeholders.
The Great Reconsideration
… brings an opportunity for organizations and workers to consider what matters to them and their key stakeholders.
The Great Reengagement
… brings an opportunity for organizations to create a more engaged, productive, cohesive, and loyal workforce.
The Great Reevaluation
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search of more ownership of their careers, flexibility, and better alignment with their goals and purpose.
The Great Regeneration
… brings an opportunity for organizations to regenerate their talent pools.
The Great Relearning
… is explained by workers leaving their current job searching for opportunities of (re)learning and (re)skilling.
The Great Renegotiation
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search of better work conditions—especially financial ones.
The Great Reshuffle
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search of more fulfilling work that is better aligned with their values and life choices.
The Great Retention
… brings pressure on organizations to redefine how they can better address the retention challenge.
The Great Rethink
… is explained by workers leaving their current job in search better alignment with values, priorities, needs, and choices.
Ranjay Gulati from Harvard Business School
The Great Retirement
… is explained by Baby Boomers retiring or deciding to retire earlier.
The Great Reset
… brings an opportunity for organizations to redefine how they can rethink the world of work and the workforce they need.
The Great Revolt
… is not only made of workers leaving their job but also workers organizing, striking, and rebelling due dissatisfaction with current working conditions.
The Great Upgrade
… is explained by higher quit rates in lower-wage industries.
Bharat Ramamurti from the U.S. National Economic Council