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  1. New Statesman A-Z of 2021
25 December 2021updated 23 Dec 2021 1:33pm

Q is for Quitting: How a pandemic-era workers’ exodus sparked the “Great Resignation” theory

Evidence for the “Big Quit” is mixed but many sectors are still short-staffed.

By Anoosh Chakelian

Remember when we all stayed at home and discovered the warm scent of home-baked banana bread, the gentle flutter of a sparrow’s wing on a deserted lockdown walk, our neighbours, and never having to turn up to our desks at 9am?

Well, so the “Great Resignation” theory goes, that cultural change has led us to re-evaluate our priorities and ditch our horrible jobs en masse for something new and more fulfilling. That, or our employers didn’t take our safety seriously during the pandemic, or are trying to make us work in the office again – and we’re having none of it.

It’s a beguiling idea, and data suggests there is a big shift, particularly in the UK and US. Resignations in the UK are at their highest level in 20 years, and a record number of Brits moved from one job to another by choice in the third quarter of 2021. A record number of Americans also quit their jobs in September. Since the pandemic hit, 2.4 million Brits (7 per cent of all UK workers) have been planning a completely different career path from the one they’re on, according to research by Aviva, an insurance company.

Wages are growing in the UK as a result of this exodus, with workers visibly lacking from certain sectors – from Uber drivers to care workers to pub staff.

Yet the so-called Great Resignation – or “Big Quit” – isn’t quite what it seems.

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Rather than a soul-searching endeavour, it appears people are simply behaving as expected after a period of economic instability: fewer resigned during the height of the pandemic than usual, so two years of would-be resignations have been building up, manifesting as the economy began to recover before Omicron hit.

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The level of job-to-job moves in Britain as a result of people handing their notices in is not unusually higher than recent years. And far from quitting to carve a new path, people are opting for new jobs in the same industry at a greater proportion than in 2019: from about half to 57 per cent. So while we may be resigning, it seems we’re still pretty resigned.

Find the other entries in the New Statesman A-Z of 2021 here.