Several months in, the Great Resignation continues to upend workforces across the country. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record 4.4 million employees quit their jobs in September. That bested the previous record freshly set in August, when another 4.3 million people dropped their two-week notices.
The trend has become impossible to ignore, and reckoning industries are now asking the big question: Why? While there isn’t a neat answer to that, some labor analysts speculate it could be a confluence of factors.
- The obvious suspect: COVID-19. While over 55% of the U.S. population was fully vaccinated by the end of September, caseloads, particularly of the delta variant, continued to swell, reaching a half-year peak nationwide in mid-September. The virus’s persistence and public health concerns likely discouraged some from seeking in-person work.
- The side effects: Unpredictable child and family care. With caseloads in flux, the fate of in-person grade schooling remained uncertain, and the hovering threat of campus shutdowns meant parental duties hung in limbo. The fact that a sudden need for 24/7 childcare could arise at any time likely thwarted some parents from returning to work full-time.
- The underlying force: An existential awakening. Perhaps most profoundly, the dramatic upheaval of the past year and a half, along with the looming specter of death, likely inspired many to rethink how they spend their limited time on Earth. Industries that have struggled most to fill extensive vacancies include retail; hospitality, including restaurant and fast food service; and manufacturing—all historically low-paying jobs that involve back-breaking labor. Perhaps some have decided it’s simply not worth it. News reports suggest some are hoping to switch careers, while others, such as older workers, are opting for early retirement.
- The ultimate result: Newly empowered workers. With the masses behind it, the Great Resignation promises a sort of labor revolution for a formerly disenfranchised workforce. With many big-name companies starved for staff, some have begun dangling employee perks ranging from wage bonuses, to free tuition, to student loan relief, to complimentary daycare. And some job seekers are realizing they now have the power to choose—or to use the worker shortage as leverage to demand better conditions, as shown by a surge in worker strikes at companies like John Deere and Kellogg.
In all situations, it’s clear employers should take note, as the Great Resignation threatens to scuttle a full economic recovery following nearly two years of pandemic. The labor market is still in a shrunken state, 4 million jobs short of pre-pandemic times, and the number of job vacancies stood at 10.4 million in September.