Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs in a "Great Resignation," Abby Vesoulis reports for TIME—and it may be a sign that employers need to make changes to better attract and retain workers.
A record number of Americans are quitting their jobs
According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released last week, a record-breaking 4.3 million Americans across a variety of industries quit their jobs in August. That is highest number of quits since the agency began tracking such data in 2000, Vesoulis reports.
The food service, retail, and health care industries were among the hardest hit. In particular, 534,000 U.S. workers in health care or social assistance positions resigned or quit their jobs in August, according to BLS data.
Only a small fraction of resignations appear to be attributable to vaccine mandates, Vesoulis reports. For example, around 99% of the 33,000 employees at the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan complied with the system's vaccine mandate.
Rather, economists say the wave of resignations is driven by a range of factors, including low-wage jobs without opportunities for career growth, rising costs of child care, increasing responsibility and grueling work conditions amid Covid-19 surges, and fatigue from the pandemic.
"[Employees] don't want to return to backbreaking or boring, low-wage … jobs," said Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton. "Workers are burned out. They're fed up. They're fried. In the wake of so much hardship, and illness and death during the past year, they're not going to take it anymore."
'It's now going to be a workers' market'
According to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, workers now have an opportunity to exert pressure on their employers. "We are now seeing a labor market that is tight and prospects are becoming increasingly clear that it's going to remain tight," he said. "It's now going to be a workers' market, and they're empowered. I think they are starting to flex their collective muscle."
Separately, Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, agreed with Zandi's assessment, saying that workers now have more bargaining power than before.
"If you look at the ratio of unemployed workers, job openings, or just even just the quit rate itself, that does suggest that there's more power for workers in the form of exiting," he said. "If they don't like the situation they're in now, they can leave."
In fact, 35-year-old Amy Minas did just that, leaving her job as a medical lab assistant to be a science tutor at a local community college, Vesoulis writes. Minas said she had already felt overwhelmed and overworked at the hospital where she worked due to limited senior staff and insufficient training, but the pandemic made things even worse.
"It was very difficult to know you were doing such an important job with basically no training and not feeling your employer appreciated your concerns," Minas said. "With Covid, it just made it that much worse, because of staffing issues and having to do all these Covid tests."
Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, said the trend of employees quitting may benefit workers in the long term. For example, companies may increase wages and benefits and offer more flexibility to attract and retain in-person workers.
"There's all this talk about people wanting more flexibility post-pandemic," Klotz said. "There's an opportunity here for organizations to get together with workers who have to be in person and say, 'Within the constraints of our business, let's obviously raise wages and benefits, but let's also think about flexibility more innovatively.'" (Vesoulis, TIME, 10/13)