“The Great Resignation” in the US: why millions of people leave their jobs or do not want to return to face-to-face work as before the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a large portion of American workers to re-evaluate their options. Flexibility, home office and better remuneration, among the claims.

“I need to pay the bills, so I have to work but now I think work has to adapt to life, not life to work,” shoots Jonathan Caballero, a software developer from Hyattsville, Maryland. “The pandemic changed my mentality, now I value my time very much,” he says … Caballero is one of the millions who decided not to return to work when presence became mandatory. In the United States, the phenomenon – which seems to be accelerating – was dubbed the “Great Renunciation.”

It is that a record 4.3 million American workers quit their job in August, according to the latest data from the US Department of Labor, a figure that expands to 20 million if measured through April.

Many of these resignations occurred in the retail and hospitality sectors, with employees choosing to leave difficult and poorly paid jobs. But the resignations span a broad spectrum of the American workforce , as the pandemic closures – and the tortuous road to recovery – continue to fuel what Atlantic writer Derek Thompson has described as “a centrifugal moment in history. American economy ”.

Now, companies grapple with staffing shortages while the experience of a sustained public health emergency has prompted millions of Americans to reevaluate their job options.

These statistics can seem puzzling. After months of economic and pandemic uncertainty, things are finally looking up: schools have reopened, the vaccine is widely available, businesses are expanding, and the economy is rebounding. But, according to labor experts, this optimistic outlook does not take into account the mood of Americans, who are simply exhausted …

“Employees don’t want to go back to boring, grueling, low-wage, shitty jobs,” Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor in the Clinton Administration , explained to Time . “The workers are burned. They are fed up. They are fried. After so many difficulties, illnesses and deaths during the past year, they will not take it anymore ”.

“This pandemic has been going on for so long that it is affecting people mentally and physically,” said Danny Nelms, president of the consultancy Work Institute., to the Wall Street Journal . “All of this keeps people reflecting on their life, their career and their work. If we add more than 10 million vacancies to that, if I want to go and do something different, it is not terribly difficult to do so ”.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, told Time that the conditions were created for workers to put pressure on their employers: “We are now seeing a tight labor market and the outlook is increasingly clear that it will continue to be tight.Now it’s going to be a market for workers, and they are empowered. I think they are beginning to flex their collective muscle. “

Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, who coined the term “Great Quit ” to describe this budding job market, says the trends may have a silver lining. They can force companies not only to raise wages and increase benefits, but also to offer more flexibility to attract and retain the workforce.

Millennials question the advisability of returning to face-to-face work more than other generationsMillennials question the advisability of returning to face-to-face work more than other generations

“There is talk that people want more flexibility after the pandemic,” says Klotz. “Here’s an opportunity for organizations to get together with workers who have to work face-to-face and say, ‘Within the constraints of our business, obviously let’s raise wages and benefits, but let’s also think about flexibility more. innovative. ‘

According to a survey by The Conference Board, millennials question the advisability of going back to the office more than older generations, with 55% of millennials expressing concern about working in person, versus 45% of Gen X participants and 36% of baby boomers.


After 26 years in the food industry, Jeremy Golembiewski left his job as the general manager of a breakfast joint in San Diego. The pandemic had a lot to do with it . The job had become too stressful, marked by staff shortages and constant battles with unmasked clients. He contracted COVID-19 and took it home to his wife and father-in-law.

When California entered lockdown for the second time last December, Golembiewski had to choose between working six days a week or taking leave. He took advantage of the permit. It was an easy decision.

The sector most affected is gastronomy.  In this photo, a Wendy's store displays an employee search sign in Tampa, Florida, United States (REUTERS / Octavio Jones / File Photo)The sector most affected is gastronomy. In this photo, a Wendy’s store displays an employee search sign in Tampa, Florida, United States (REUTERS / Octavio Jones / File Photo)

In the months that followed, he told NPR , his life changed. She spent her time doing fun things, like setting up a game room in her garage for her two young children and cooking dinner for the family. At 42, she had a glimpse of what life could be like if she didn’t have to work 50-60 hours a week at the restaurant and miss Thanksgiving dinner and Christmas morning with her family.

“I want to see the faces of my 1 and 5-year-olds light up when they come out and see the tree and all the presents that I’ve spent six hours a night riding and taking out,” says Golembiewski, who got her first job at a restaurant at age 16 as a dishwasher at Michigan’s Big Boy chain.

So instead of going back to work after the leave, Golembiewski resigned, ending his long career and the unemployment checks that gave him a cushion to think about what to do next. With enough savings for a month or two, he’s honing his resume, working on his typing skills, and starting interviewing for jobs that are new to him : retail, insurance, data loading.The only thing that is clear to him is that he wants to work 40 hours a week.

Like Golembiewski, more than 740,000 people resigned from jobs in the leisure and hospitality sector in April, which includes jobs in hotels, bars and restaurants, theme parks and other entertainment venues. In fact,approximately 40% of resignations in the US belong to the gastronomy, hospitality, retail, factory and health sectors. These people face long and changing hours, rude customer behavior, low wages, and high levels of stress.

The “Great Renunciation” in the United States was preceded by a much greater stagnation – decades, one might say – in workers’ wages and benefits. In the lowest jobs, incomes have not kept pace with inflation, while work has become more informal and precarious.

Workers’ rights activists now see a vital moment to correct course. The month of October has been a month of great importance for organized workers in the United States, with large strikes in various sectors of the country.


The great migration to remote work in the pandemic has also had a profound impact on the way people think about when and where they want to work.

“We have changed. The work has changed. The way we think about time and space has changed, ” Tsedal Neeley, a Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere , explained to NPR. . Workers now yearn for the flexibility that the pandemic provides, something that was previously unattainable, he says.

Employees demand flexible work arrangements, remote options, shorter work hours based on production and performance rather than work time, four-day workweeks and the freedom of not being chained to a desk ten hours a day with a boss micromanager and a long commute to work.

In fact, “white collar” professionals have also reassessed their work lives and decided that it is time for a change. There is a new dynamic at play. Before, work was seen as a necessary task to earn a salary. You lived to work. Now you want more.

This group is reimagining their work lives and are moving – or looking to move – to a different industry that offers opportunities for growth and job satisfaction. Many, in fact, reinvented themselves as business owners or stock investors.

“I think the pandemic has allowed us to gain time to think about what you really want”explains Alyssa Casey, a federal government investigator who years ago fantasized about leaving Washington DC for Illinois, to be close to her parents and siblings. And when the pandemic put things on hold last year, she and her husband rented a home in Illinois and formed a pandemic bubble with their extended family.

The restrictions were lifted but something changed, now they are sure they want to stay in Illinois, even if they have to leave their job …


Almost 1.8 million women have left the workforce amid the pandemic in the US And now they are faced with the possibility of going back to work in a very different landscape, in which some jobs have disappeared, others are vulnerable to automation and almost all carry some level of health risk.

Mothers across the income spectrum have been forced to take on additional responsibilities in caring for childrenMothers across the income spectrum have been forced to take on additional responsibilities in caring for children

According to Politico , last June 57.5% of women over 20 years of age participated in the US workforce, which represents a decrease compared to 59.2% in February 2020 and a level that, even after months of improvement, still the lowest in more than 30 years.

Economists warn that women’s participation in the U.S. workforce has been stagnant for decades, since 2000, a phenomenon that shows that even before the pandemic, working women needed more social supports than was available. . However, the pandemic was a devastating blow.

Mothers across the income spectrum have been forced to take on additional responsibilities in caring for children, as schools and daycare centers had closed. And some women with higher incomes are moving to areas with a lower cost of living – allowing two-parent families to justify reducing their income – or choosing to interrupt or reduce their careers.

The consequences are not only personal or a setback in gender equality and economic independence, American economists warn that if women do not return to work the damaging effects will inevitably be transferred to the economy in general.

According to experts from the University of Akron, every 10% increase in the number of working women is associated with a 5% increase in the wages of all workers, as the overall productivity of the workforce increases. And gender matching of employment added nearly $ 500 billion to U.S. GDP in 2019, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco concluded in a report earlier this year.


In social democratic Western Europe there is less disorder in the workforce but there are similar trends: “Data collated by the OECD, which groups together the majority of advanced industrial democracies, shows that in its 38 member countries about 20 million work fewer people than before the appearance of the coronavirus ” , points out Politico Europe . “Of these, 14 million have left the labor market and are classified as ‘not working’ and ‘not looking for work’. And compared to 2019, there are 3 million more young people who do not have a job, education or training. “

Last August, a third of German companies reported a shortage of skilled workers. And in October, Detlef Scheele, director of Germany’s Federal Employment Agency, told the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that the country would need to import 400,000 skilled workers a year to make up for gaps in a number of sectors, from nursing care to business. of green technology .

Chinese factories are beginning to feel the labor shortage.Chinese factories are beginning to feel the labor shortage.

The Washington Post explains that resignations are also multiplying in the various Asian economies. China is seeing its own version of the “Great Renunciation,” with a generation of younger workers disenchanted with its prospects and discouraged by the relatively low wages in manufacturing centers that fueled the country’s economic rise. Beijing authorities are warning of a growing shortage of skilled workers in its crucial technology industry, a challenge for Chinese leaders as they try to steer the national economy towards more skilled sectors. And as global demand recovers, Chinese factories are beginning to feel the labor shortage.