The pandemic has completely changed the rules of the game in the world of work. This is evident in the unemployment figures, in the transition of many sectors to a new normal, in the need for many workers to update their professional skills. But that’s not all. In the last few months, in just over a year and a half, there is an emerging desire of many to change their lives, to look at work differently than in the past.
The Great Resignation
In the USA, they call it the Big Quit or Great Resignation: a great exodus from work. An expression most likely coined by Anthony Klotz, professor of management at the Mays Business School of Texas A&M University. An increasing number of people are leaving their jobs. The phenomenon has been going on for months. A record 4.3 million workers quit in August. Primarily in hotels, restaurants and shops.
Under normal conditions, people leaving work is an indication of a healthy economy: it normally means that there is a good chance of finding a better, or simply better paid, or more stable job.
The pandemic shattered this paradigm, leading to one of the largest waves of resignations in history. And not out of over-optimism.
In the first two decades of the 21st century, the US resignation rate never exceeded 2.4% of the total workforce. During the Great Recession of the 1930s, the resignation rate fell from 2% to 1.3%.
The Atlantic reported on this phenomenon in an article by Derek Thompson. “We’re living through a fundamental shift in the relationship between employees and bosses that could have profound implications for the future of work”, he writes. “Lower-wage workers who benefited from enhanced unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic may have returned to the job and realized they’re not being paid enough. Now they are putting their foot down, forcing restaurants and clothes shops to pay higher wages”.
It is obviously not simply a question of wages.
Many people, after the flexibility they had with remote working, do not want to give it up. If forced to return to the office by the company, they prefer to resign and look for another job.
Ryan Roslansky, chief executive of LinkedIn, prefers not to call it the Great Resignation, but rather the ‘Great Reshuffle’. Tracking profiles on the platform, he told Time that at the end of September, the percentage of those who changed jobs globally was up 54% on last year.
Germany had the highest rate of COVID-19-related resignations in Europe, with 6% of workers leaving their jobs, followed by the UK (4.7%), the Netherlands (2.9%) and France (2.3%).
So what about Italy?
The National Labour Inspectorate’s findings in Italy indicate a worrying figure for the resignation of working parents, especially women, in the months of the pandemic.
But these are not employment transitions due to sectoral crises triggered by COVID. In an undemanding labour market such as Italy’s, changing jobs is anything but easy.
In a September article, the newspaper Il Corriere della Sera recounted the story of a lawyer who chose to change everything after COVID: “I quit my job after the first lockdown, I lived through months of crisis with no money and no identity, but now I finally have a more rewarding job. I changed jobs to get away from a denialist and domineering boss. I looked for something better and I got it, I am happier today”.
Aside from the individual stories in the newspapers, however, there are still no large figures comparable to those in the USA. The reallocation index of workers over the past months shows how shifts from one sector to another actually correspond to the various waves of the virus, with businesses opening and closing in hiccups.
Reasons for resignation
The phenomenon we are now seeing on a global scale is also wider in scope, linked to the new significance of the working dimension in people’s lives. According to a Microsoft survey of 30,000 workers, 41% are considering resigning. The numbers spike between the ages of 18 and 25, where the percentage rises to 54%.
Some are moving out of sectors brought to their knees by the pandemic, but many are also looking for better working conditions, more flexible hours and more benefits. If the employers cannot or do not want to listen to these requests, more rewarding employment is sought elsewhere. Or perhaps even starting a business of one’s own.
The novelty is that we no longer look only at salary or contract types.
In fact, a study by Personio explains that companies that did not take enough care of their employees during the lockdown risk a staff exodus.
This has to do with the way they work, with many employees working at a relentless pace in recent months, accumulating stress or even falling victim to burnout, and having to make a choice to safeguard their mental health.
In many cases, as Sole 24 Ore reveals, “the invasion of the digital medium into working relationships has eliminated buffers, forcing us to manage an agenda with no downtime. The overall time spent in online meetings has more than doubled and continues to grow, the average duration of a meeting has also increased by 10 minutes, from 35 to 45 minutes, and each person sends on average 45% more chat messages per week”.