“Great Resignation” in the United States: But What Are All Those Americans Doing Who Quit Their Jobs?

In her latest single, “You Won’t Break My Soul,” Beyoncé encourages the listener to: “let go [s]we use, release [s]we time» (“release your job / release your time”). If the singer’s influence is well established across the Atlantic, many Americans wouldn’t have waited for Queen B to tell them to resign.

In 2021, a total of 47 million people left their jobs: a quarter of Americans stopped working that year. And the phenomenon seems unstoppable. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 4.4 million people resigned in April 2022 alone.Great layoff‘, or the ‘great layoff’.

According to Serge da Motta Veiga, researcher and professor of management at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes Commerciales du Nord (EDHEC), who specializes in recruitment and career management, it was the pandemic and incarcerations that prompted this widespread layoff in the United States. States.

“There is a delay of two to three months between the first incarceration and the first wave of dismissal”he explains. This is where Anthony Klotz [chercheur psychologue du monde du travail qui a inventé le terme de “grande démission”, ndlr] realized that something was changing. Thanks to the Covid, people said to themselves, “What I’m doing is no longer what I wanted to do, it’s no longer my goal and I want to chase my dream.”

“A bubble ready to burst”

However, according to the researcher, the pandemic is not the only cause of this phenomenon: “There was a bubble about to burst. We also see it in France. An entire generation of young people, especially young graduates, has different ambitions. They want to finish their studies, but also find meaningful work. They want a geographic location they like, more flexibility and more autonomy.”

The first incarceration was an opportunity for many people to begin a period of reflection and telework to realize that certain jobs can be practiced anywhere or almost. Result: many people, young or old, notice that their job does not or no longer meets their expectations.

The most amazing aspect of the “great layoff” is that it affects all categories of the American population, not just the affluent middle class. Even those in precarious situations were able to tie the knot and resign, perhaps thanks to the successive checks the federal government awarded to families during the pandemic: $1,200 in April 2020, $600 in December 2020 and $1,400 in March 2021.

As Serge da Motta Veiga explains, “we see two types of profiles” who took part in the “great layoff”. “On the one hand, people who are more at management level, highly qualified, and who did not need this financial support. On the other hand, all people who had precarious or semi-precarious jobs, for example in the hospitality industry, and for whom these checks offered a little bit of comfort.

Lots of layoffs
low unemployment

Thanks to the so-called labor lawsas they please(by his choice), enforced in forty-nine of the fifty states, it’s very easy to quit in the United States: you don’t even have to cancel. A factor that explains why the layoffs were so rapid, numerous and brutal.

However, this does not mean that all these people have left the labor market. Just look at the unemployment rate in the United States (3.6% in April) to understand that the majority of them found work very quickly, either in their original industry or through retraining.

“Some people persisted because they were already in the industry they dreamed of, explains the recruitment researcher. But there are people who quit their jobs and retrain. If you think about it, someone who works in the hospitality industry, for example, might move into other service industries like sales. He’s just applying his skills elsewhere.”

In addition, many layoffs who have found work have managed to increase their salaries. According to a study by the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlantathe average salary of an American who changed jobs between 2021 and 2022 increased by 6%, compared to a rise of just 4.5% for someone who kept their job for the entire year.

When the employee dictates the rules

Even more beneficial, the “great layoffs” and the fear of staff shortages it is introducing in companies have changed the balance of power between employers and employees. “At the moment the employee is in a strong position, explains the researcher. He can dictate the rules a bit, negotiate more money. He has the choice, the luxury of choosing where he works and how he works.”

This balance of power is illustrated by the announcements that American companies are multiplying to retain their employees or even to attract new employees. Recently, for example, short-term rental giant Airbnb announced that all of its employees could choose to telecommute from anywhere in the world instead of returning to the office. A way to satisfy new desires that pays off, because after this statement Airbnb vacancies have been viewed about 800,000 times in just a week.

Some have even decided to go further and stop depending on employers altogether, preferring to start their own business. According to the United States Census Bureau, 5.4 million entrepreneurial activities were created in 2021, a record high in the country’s history. According to Serge da Motta Veiga, this initiative reflects even more than a desire for independence, a change in values. Some people have decided that they no longer want to work to survive, but to… “pursue their passions”.

Drop everything and go on a journey

Finally, a minority decided to quit not only their jobs, but also the world of work, to enjoy the rest of their lives. In a country where retirement is based solely on savings and investments, early retirement was for a long time the preserve of the wealthiest categories. It is no longer the case.

According to a Pew Research Center survey, 50.3% of Americans over the age of 55 say they are retired. And for Serge da Motta Veiga, even workers who… “are murdered at work all their lives, as we would never do in Europe” start to wonder “why they would commit suicide for another ten years” and instead decide to sell everything they have to buy a mobile home and finally be able to travel.

Nevertheless, the researcher warns: it is still too early to know whether this cultural change will continue or not. As he explains, “This is all cyclical. It can change. If we end up in recession again with rising inflation, the balance of power could shift again.

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