The past two years have seen the most dramatic shift in the labor market in at least century, or maybe ever. In April 2020, the national unemployment rate in the U.S. reached 14.8%—the highest rate observed since data collection began in 1948. It was due, of course, to national lockdown orders at the beginning of the pandemic. But now, 18 months later, the U.S. is facing a very different labor crisis: the Great Resignation.
A recent study by Microsoft found that 41% of the global workforce would consider leaving their current employer within the next year. And a poll from Monster found that 95% of workers are at least contemplating a job change.
What happened? How did we go from record unemployment to labor shortages? It’s a topic that longtime Fast Company writer Stephanie Vozza has covered extensively, so I asked her to join me on the most recent episode of The New Way We Work.
So just how big is the problem? Vozza mentioned that the national quit rate dropped by half a percent in the spring of 2020. If you had a job then, you were likely hanging on tight in the face of so much uncertainty. In 2021 however, the quit rate shot back up and then some, with around 10 million people quitting their jobs by July 2021.
Although labor shortages in the service industry might be the most visible, Vozza pointed out that tech and healthcare have actually seen the most people quit in the last few months, and burnout has been one of the driving reasons. As for the other reasons? While lack of childcare options and low wages are at the heart of many job vacancies, the other reasons people are quitting en masse are the same reasons people have always left their jobs: lack of flexibility and lack of opportunity—meaning, lack of work-life balance.
The pandemic has caused a lot of us to refocus and reevaluate our priorities, and the old adage, “You don’t quit a job, you quit a manager,” has never been more true. If managers want to hold onto their employees, they should listen closely to what they want, especially when it comes to remote work.
Listen to the full episode for more on what’s really behind the Great Resignation, how managers can keep employees from quitting, and how employees can negotiate for what they want.