When the pandemic began, I was already a retiree following German law. But I still enjoyed teaching German language. I really loved communicating with my students "face-to-face". At the moment, I only do have the chance to teach online. All of my work and communication with the outside world now takes place in my home office. Actually, I am still lucky. Why?
Well, throughout the pandemic, essential workers and employees – often in lower paid positions – have borne the brunt of employers’ decisions. Many were working longer hours on smaller staffs, in positions that required interaction with the public with little to no safety measures put in place by the company and, at least in the US, no guarantee of paid sick leave. It quickly burnt workers out.
Many people are leaving their jobs – or thinking about it – in droves. A Microsoft survey of more than 30,000 global workers showed that 41% of workers were considering quitting or changing professions this year, and a study from HR software company Personio of workers in the UK and Ireland showed 38% of those surveyed planned to quit in the next six months to a year. In the US alone, April saw more than four million people quit their jobs, according to a summary from the Department of Labor – the biggest spike on record.
There are a number of reasons people are seeking a change, in what some have dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’. For some, the pandemic precipitated a shift in priorities, encouraging them to pursue a ‘dream job’, or transition to being a stay-at-home parent. But for many, many others, the decision to leave came as a result of the way their employer treated them during the pandemic.
As I learned from the recent Stanford Study, workers who, pre-pandemic, may already be teetering on the edge of quitting companies with existing poor company culture saw themselves pushed to a breaking point. That’s because, as evidenced by this Stanford Study, many of these companies with bad environments doubled-down on decisions that didn’t support workers, such as layoffs (while, conversely, companies that had good culture tended to treat employees well). This drove out already disgruntled workers who survived the layoffs, but could plainly see they were working in unsupportive environments.
And although workers have always cared about the environments in which they work, the pandemic added an entirely new dimension: an increased willingness to act, says Alison Omens, chief strategy officer of JUST Capital, the research firm that collected much of the data for the study.
"The early days of the pandemic reminded us that people are not machines", says Alison Omens. In the wake of the pandemic, “the intensity has increased in terms of that expectation; people are expecting more from companies. The early days of the pandemic reminded us that people are not machines”, says Omens. “If you’re worried about your kids, about your health, financial insecurity and covering your bills, and all the things that come with being human, you’re less likely to be productive. And we were all worried about those things.”
Yes, it's indeed an across-the-board exodus. The mass departure is happening at all levels of work, and is especially evident in service and retail jobs. “Many of the stories have tended to focus on white collar jobs, but the biggest trends are really around traditionally low-wage roles and essential workers,” says Omens. “That’s a really interesting element of this.”
Could this Great Resignation bring about meaningful, long-term change to workplace culture and the way companies invest in their employees? Omens believes the answer is yes. The change was happening before the pandemic, she says, with a “real increase in what people are looking for in terms of their expectations of CEOs and companies”.
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