The Great Resignation Shows What Empowered Workers Really Look Like
Some politicians insist that workers are so beleaguered governments should push them into labor unions and mandate a national $15 per hour minimum wage. But then economic and cultural conditions largely fueled by reactions to COVID-19 spurred an enormous shift in the relative clout of employees and their bosses. In a “Great Resignation” people are quitting jobs in huge numbers in search of better pay, improved conditions, and respectful treatment. Forget the myth of the oppressed worker; while that’s true in some circumstances, we now have a reminder that power is relative to the conditions of the moment, and that people collecting paychecks can have as much leverage as those paying them.
In January, 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs, according to the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (JOLTS) from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s down a hair from the previous month, but well above levels considered normal before the pandemic and its associated dislocations disrupted people’s lives.
“Quits fell to 4.3 million in January, coming off of record highs in Nov.,” noted Daniel Zhao, senior economist for Glassdoor’s Economic Research Team. “The Great Resignation is still in full swing even if quits are moderating somewhat. Quits are still up 23 percent above pre-pandemic levels.”
Importantly, job openings remain at a near-record 11.3 million, up substantially from the 7 million openings in January 2020, just before COVID-19 rained on the world’s parade. That means job seekers encounter a lot more demand for their services and can pick and choose accordingly.
“Demand for labor is historically high and workers are quitting their jobs at historic rates to take advantage of that demand,” comments Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab. “At the same time, employers continue to have a hard time filling open positions.”
What taking advantage of that demand means varies from person to person, but there are definite commonalities. “Low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected at work are the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year,” Pew Research reported of survey results. “Those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility.”
To put it bluntly, employers who grew accustomed to treating staff poorly when they had the upper hand are now reaping the results as those workers flock to jobs offering happier conditions and higher pay. People with desirable skills and good work histories are in great demand and able to negotiate much better terms of employment.
Of course, power can be abused by whoever has it. Barely a week passes without my teenage son’s phone ringing with a request for him to take another shift at the supermarket whe
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