4 min read

Warm Take: The Resignation is actually not that great

It has attained meme status. It may not be real.
Garden made, manicured green hedges organized around a central circular edge, with a tree growing in the middle.
Maze, Michael Coghlan, CC BY-SA 2.0

Have you been reading about the Great Resignation? And, are people in your circles quitting in droves?  (I’d love to hear what you’re seeing.)

Bear with me for a brief cul-de-sac; I’ll be right back to the branding of an assertion about US labor markets.

It’s my tendency to follow my curiosity and/or interests, sometimes beyond any practical end. I will gnaw on a topic until I feel some sense of completeness. I'll read, listen, watch, talk with people — and sometimes stretch the patience of friends and co-workers with my in-process analysis. (Shout out to everyone who has seen my newsletter technology deck.) When I'm done, I usually have a more informed opinion on the topic.

The other day, I was about to share a podcast episode on a topic I'm currently plumbing…and then thought, wait a minute. How did I get here? To this podcast, to this story?

I hadn't used my own list of questions I ask before I cite or share something! When I did, I found that couldn't verify anything about the story I had almost shared.

How did I get there? Twitter, a streaming-service documentary, a podcast, another podcast…gah.

It wasn’t Q, I wasn’t being radicalized. Thankfully, I hadn’t acted on what I had heard.

This reminded me that when something enters our social media feeds, it's easy to fall down the rabbit hole. Today's so-called Great Resignation has attained meme status. It may not be real.

Photo of Wharton's Peter Cappelli, The State of The labor market and "The Great Resignation, links to tweet/video

I usually appreciate Peter Cappelli's practical assessments of what's happening in the labor market.

Knowledge@Wharton: The government reported in August that 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs, which was a record number since record-keeping began. You’re saying this isn’t necessarily reflective of a fundamental change in the workforce. Can you explain that?

Cappelli: First, they don’t tell you that records only began 20 years ago, and most of that period has been dominated by recession. Jobs become open when the economy is booming, and the closest we’ve had to anything like a real boom was in 2018–2019, especially just before COVID. The job market was getting pretty tight.

Should Employers Rethink What They’re Offering Workers? Interview with Peter Cappelli at Knowledge@Wharton, November 2021

Until this morning, I worried that The Great Resignation was going to be played as a social movement that we all need to be part of. And when I say "until this morning," um, thank you New York Times, for this morning's article. Career advice from marketing coordinator Gabby Ianniello was, um, sobering.

She quit in February, with about $10,000 in savings, and posted a TikTok over the summer telling her followers that she’d found a new sense of bliss. “Right now, quitting is the hot thing to do,” Ms. Ianniello, who started a podcast called Corporate Quitter, said. “It’s almost like the dot-com bubble, when you made your AIM name and you were an early adopter. You get to be part of the Great Resignation.”

Public Displays of Resignation: Saying ‘I Quit’ Loud and Proud, Emma Goldberg at The New York Times, December 4, 2021

Last December, I had hoped that we'd be done with Covid by now. This morning, I’m wondering if we’re even halfway through the crisis. It's prompting very real evaluations about what people are doing, and what’s really important to them. Now, add the algorithmic push and social media-inspired FOMO that some will experience to the mix.

Yes, yes, as a manager, you should rethink what you offer to your team members. This includes taking personal inventory – as a manager, what value do you bring to team members? And yes, someone in your organization should probably be doing Stay interviews.

Photo of my tweet that pokes fun about Stay interviews as the next big covid workplace trend, links to my 2013 blog post

I am interested in what you're seeing out there – because job changes don't seem to be that epic in my friend, family, and co-worker group. There's one exception: a couple of older friends have retired a bit earlier than they might have.

12/6/21, l'esprit de l'escalier: branding current events as The Great Resignation, or anything else, is premature. Labor statistics are routinely revised after the fact as new information becomes available.

Also, I'm not the right person to critique any comparisions of what we're seeing today and America's Great Migration. Let me know if you see something on this; I'll do the same.

Welcome to people who are receiving On Management for the first time today. Many thanks to everyone who supports the newsletter financially.  And, thanks to everyone for being here with me for today's Warm Take, which I usually write on Sunday mornings while drinking my one and only coffee of the day. Sometimes there are typos and loose thoughts, and sometimes I fix them on the Internet. (Sometimes, I add thoughts that came to me after pressing send, see above.)

If you have questions, comments, suggestions or insights about the so-called Great Resignation, or anything else about people management and the workplace, bring them on.

May you and your loved ones be safe, healthy, and free.

Anne Libby


Warm Take: Reading and Believing. November 8, 2021

Warm Take: Shadow Values. October 24, 2021

Warm Take: Advice. October 10, 2021 (member post, paywalled)

Gif: woman in a office, at an 90s style PC, sweeps the monitor off the desk, keeps typing