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The Great Resignation- Do jobs even matter anymore?

by Sudha Chandrasekaran
(Coimbatore, Tamilnadu, India)

The work world in 2021 was carved within three words…The Great Resignation. Confined within the four walls of the house for nearly two long years, people were forced to disengage from the world outside and look within, and several are now realizing the hollowness of their careers and the decisions they have made. This was the starting point for many people around the world to change their lives-that of quitting their existing jobs and starting afresh on their own or considering start-ups or else deciding on taking a sabbatical. This is the start of the ‘great resignation’, wherein people are quitting their regular jobs to spend more time with their families.

The pandemic has generated a global movement with several thousands of people now ‘lying flat’ – the term that was coined in China that which is tantamount to quitting work completely for betterment of life quality. Several members of the workforce started 'epiphany-quitting' their jobs which proved to be an impetus for them to rethink about the choices that they had made in their lives and how important is life outside the work scenario. They are now looking for a better alignment between their values and their jobs.
The lockdown ensuing Covid-19 pandemic was followed by the death of several millions all around the world which has shaken us all very rudely. Not only did the threat to life hit us really hard but it also made us ponder and debate over our aspirations and purpose in life. This happens to be the turning point of a new work culture in times to come. This hunt for motive and meaning is what is pushing people to leave their high-paying but dissatisfactory jobs. If employees are not looked after well by their employers, or valued, or supported at such a critical time as the pandemic, it’s not surprising that several employees are reluctant to continue the same job. For some workers their trust in their employer was broken as they felt that their employer did not comply with basic human values.

It was during this pandemic that many people had the realization that they were much happier and satisfied when their hobbies provided them their day-to-day bread and butter rather than their jobs which they were doing half-heartedly and disinterestedly. A shift in priorities of people was seen. Especially there was more appreciation of family and home among those who had no time for family during the pre-pandemic days. For many people who started to work suddenly from home, this pandemic provided them opportunities to know their potential and capabilities. They also realised how much they appreciated their home and the precious memories linked to it.

Several terms were conceived describing this work revolution, to which we are eye witnesses. They are “The Great realization”, “The Great Reset”.... With the work-life balance being weakened several people left for new places or even new countries to take control over their lives. Added to all the burnout and frustration that has taken a toll on people during the lockdowns, the companies started making their employees over work as well as many employers have forgotten what personal space is. Big companies like Tesla and Amazon are being questioned for not adhering to basic human values. This Great Resignation is being supplemented with what is known as ‘Reformed Recruitment’, for the epiphany quitters are joining those companies which have greater flexibility. Big salary alone is not the only criterion for people to choose a company. They look to the values that the company adheres to. With this consciousness being awakened now, this tendency is likely to gain more momentum... This boom of the post-pandemic period wherein companies are in the process of hiring independent freelancers and contractors in the place of full-time employees has made people to quit their full-time jobs. The new arrangement helped people achieve an amenable work-life balance and also allowed them to indulge in their passion.

Compared to the Western World, the culture of our country is more inward-looking. We are more socially pressured with traditions and customs. In our country we see this great resignation in the middle-aged professionals aged 35-45 who seem to know that they have more market value than that which their present organization offers them. These professionals have the required net-working skills and the expertise as well to start something on their own, whereas the youngsters and seniors hesitate to take the plunge.

Mamta Mithal had been working in healthcare administration for about a decade when the pandemic struck. At that point of time, her hands were full taking care of her 10- month old son and attending to her ever demanding job. She saw several people losing their lives, lives of their loved ones and losing their jobs as well. Mamta is among a group of workers who could be called epiphany quitters for deciding to quit her job after reevaluating her life in the midst of the pandemic. This increased work load, known as “constant fire” forced her to quit her job in October in order to start her own business.

“I now understand that there’s more to life than just staying at home doing coding and getting hooked to my computer the whole day," says Mithun an epiphany quitter. Pandemic-inspired epiphanies also meant leaving the workforce altogether.
Bhargavi said that she left her marketing job in August and retired at 38 after spending five years working toward an early retirement goal. She quit moving closer to her family to care for them if and when they required her presence.

After a gap of nearly 2 years, Rekha was not inclined to return to her classroom and resigned forthwith from her teaching job. The pandemic changed Rekha’s job beyond all recognition. Many children appeared to have forgotten their classrooms… Emotions were frayed; and there was no let-up. This pandemic had totally changed her outlook on life. Her entire focus is now on her family and her school going kids. ‘Work gives us a feeling of achievement in the world, but the pandemic has challenged that too,’ said Rekha.

The loss of Dilip’s father at the height of the pandemic was another catalyst for change. His father had been staying in a senior citizen retreat. Owing to the pandemic his children could not visit him. Finally it was a Covid funeral!
However, these are not the only reasons:
The remote workforce has been almost unable to take leave in the past months mainly due to travel restrictions resulting in an exhaustion taking effect now. The predicament in which the working women were placed was just awful. They were under constant pressure of taking care of children and their household in addition to attending to their office work. Professionals who wanted to change their jobs but could not do so last year are more confident now and are on the lookout for good opportunities. The myth of endless time has been busted and people are now keen on spending more quality time with their families.

What are the ways by which the employers can retain talented workers talent during this period of ‘the great resignation?’

The Employers have to make sure that their businesses are carried out with a purpose that is much higher than mere profit-making. Companies need to become service-oriented. This is where the employees will find greater satisfaction and purpose which will emerge to be stronger after this phenomenon. Visibility into career mobility has become essential for employees and this criteria needs to be satisfied by the organization. Also there needs to be a change in organizational culture which should be less competitive, and more reflective. Focus needs to be on employees well being well rather than only doing well in the work front. Non-monetary benefits are to be provided to employees to retain them for a longer period of time. Healthcare initiatives, flexibility at workplace, rewards and recognitions provide motivation to the employees. Our country is witnessing a different kind of labor phenomenon. The number of employees getting reduced in all industries and especially technology is shooting up. Thus we are witnessing a great shake-up in labor force in several industries with the phasing out of Covid pandemic. There are workers who are leaving their jobs for good and are joining the nascent start -up environment or somewhere else, but the number of people quitting the workforce totally is negligible.

Now our attention has moved to an imminent catastrophe. This ‘Great Resignation’ is already being felt in developed countries. Will we in India also experience a similar behavior in our workforce? Whatever be the consequence, it is clear that several economies are already witnessing a higher rate of employee resignation than pre-covid days. There is this crisis of resignations or churn which is growing by the day owing to the increase in numbers of these voluntary resignations.

There is this silver lining during the pandemic times as there would be a huge positive step forward for the employees. Work will fit around their personal lives rather than their personal lives around work. The new freedom and flexibility found during the pandemic, that of work from home from anywhere, is the greatest benefit which is most sought after by the employees. The pandemic has become the genesis of new ways of working and looking at work in the entire world.

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