Hardly anyone saw it coming. Just as the outbreak of the pandemic caught humanity off guard, a very different kind of virus is shaking the United States’ productive system, while the rest of the countries fear contagion. We are talking about what is already known as the Great Resignation, a phenomenon that defines the abandonment of jobs by millions of people, while the world is emerging from the restrictions imposed due to the covid.
In November 2021 alone, the US Department of Labor estimated that more than four million Americans had left their jobs, putting companies, which often have real problems filling vacancies, in check. On the European continent, the United Kingdom and France lead the countries that are suffering from this unexpected flight of labor force. The sectors where workers live in a more precarious situation, such as restaurants, transport or health care, have been the first to be depopulated. However, what is the reason for this sudden phenomenon? Why do so many people no longer want to go to work?
To answer these questions we will turn to the person who popularized the term The Great Resignation, a few months anticipating what we are experiencing. This is Anthony Klotz, Professor of Management at Texas A&M University. The field of study of this researcher of human behavior has focused on how and why workers leave their jobs and where their decision leads them.
In his own words, “what is common when you are an employee is that the company holds power. When you decide to leave, the power returns to you, and the interesting thing is to know what those who obtain it do with that power.”
Before answering that question, let’s see what Klotz says about the causes of the Great Rout, as we can also call it.
On the one hand, those who drop out are often emotionally exhausted due to the demands of the job, added to an already stressful global situation. Many quitters, as they are called in English—literally, the deserters—they feel that they desperately need a break to fill themselves, after having emptied themselves for the system.
Precisely, the most restrictive phases of the pandemic have caused people to spend a lot of time at home with their family and in their personal occupations. They have realized that they are something more than their jobs, and that minimalism to which we have been drawn has made us discover pleasures as simple as cooking or learning something new every day, which we do not want to give up to return to the work frenzy. “We have a fundamental need for personal autonomy,” says Klotz to explain what is happening.
about what they are doing quitter, the psychologist Rafael Santandreu believes that many of them defend that recently recovered freedom through a much more Spartan life: “The myth that we had until recently that material well-being gives happiness has fallen for many people. As soon as they stop pursuing that idea, they start to de-escalate. The pandemic has allowed them to realize that they need much less to live than they imagined and that the most valuable asset they have is time.
If extreme minimalism becomes mainstream, who will pay future pensions? This is a question that many people ask themselves.
As in everything, between the two extremes — workopathy and labor detachment — there is a healthy midpoint. Toni Morrison, Nobel Prize for Literature, gave us two years before his death some keys that seem tailor-made for the current situation. In an article she wrote for the New Yorker magazine in 2017, the African-American author recalled moments of great frustration at her job that taught her three lessons for the rest of her life:
1. You do the work; It’s not the job that makes you.
2. Your real life is the one you live with your family.
3. You are not the work you do; you are the person you are.
We could summarize these principles in just one very simple: you are not your job.
According to this approach, the Great Renunciation would not only be the result of the burnout, burnout syndrome, or adherence to movements against work. Above all, it would be a vindication of a life and identity of our own, beyond our salary or productive function.
Francesc Miralles is a writer and journalist expert in psychology.
A possible utopia, according to Bregman
— Five years before publishing his popular Worthy of Being Human, the Dutch historian Rutger Bregman made a major impact with his essay Utopia for Realists.
— Part of two questions: “why have we been working more and more since the 1980s, despite being richer than ever? Why are there millions of people living in poverty when we are more than rich enough to eradicate it forever?
— The author assures that these problems can be solved with three measures: 1. Universal basic income; 2. Workday of 15 hours per week; 3. Open borders around the world to the free movement of people.
Exclusive content for subscribers
read without limits
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.