The Great Resignation: Have we Reached the High Water Mark

Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA
Richard Citrin Ph.D., MBA

Last week’s Sunday New York Times posted a picture across the front of the Business section showing 2 young women celebrating their quitting their jobs with an exclamation mark of champagne flutes and rollicking laughter.

It struck me as a high-water mark for the Great Resignation. Like the drunken parties of the boom times of the late 1920s or dot com fantasies of the late 1990s or the heady days of unleveraged home ownership of 2008, all good things come to an end.

We tend to miss the not-so-subtle cues about when and how market and social change is about to happen until it hits us over the head, but all the signs are beginning to point to a shift in where some of the power between employers and employees lies.

The Pandemic has certainly changed things for the workplace and many of them will be for the better. It looks like hybrid workplaces will be an important element of how we all work, and it should. There may be no reason why we all must report into a workplace every day when we can get our work done at home sometimes. Bosses and organizations will be more sensitive to the mental and emotional well-being of employees and that is long overdue. Technology may help improve the improves the quality of how we interact (moving from Zoom to the Metaverse for example) and managers must become better listeners and problem solvers helping their team members get their work completed more efficiently and not just braking out orders. 

For the past 20 years we’ve been hearing that “this time is different” but when push comes to shove, we see that the laws of economics and market forces typically win out. The dot com era promised entrepreneurial opportunities and quick bucks on every corner. If an employee had any skills in coding or marketing, there was a place in a startup, until there wasn’t.

In 2007, I remember telling several colleagues that it might not be wise to quit their job so that they could buy and flip houses. They told me the money was so easy and housing was in such demand that they could just do it for a few years and retire. Oops, perhaps they should have started back in 2004. They wound up fighting for a new job in 2008 and at a lower salary. 

Even those of us who stayed with the plan didn’t always have things work out. I got laid off from my job in 2010 after my company caught up to my high salary during their 3rd round of terminations.

I’ve written before that the War for Talent is over, and that talent has won!  That does not mean that employers will be giving up all their power, especially as the economic cycle is beginning to turn. Next month, the Fed will increase the interest rate and we are already seeing the impact on stocks. Soon, higher rates will translate to less business investment and perhaps a “right sizing” of organizations. Supply chain issues will be resolved, and businesses will determine the right mix of staff; that may mean an increase or decrease of workers, but it will, most importantly, become a known quantity and hiring demands will be more easily determined. As Omicron begins to fade and hopefully the high levels of infections (or intensity of infections) diminish, companies will begin to ask employees to return to the workplace. Today’s matrixed, collaborative, and innovation-focused workplace cannot be supported in a virtual environment. Employees may refuse and say they can get work with other companies, and they can. That will only last until those firms have enough people and then compensation may level out or even decrease. 

The laws of supply and demand will continue to dictate how the workplace works.

      Furthermore, not everyone is skilled enough to “go out on their own.” Having the technical skills is terrific but running a small business is more about relationships, sales, marketing and customer service, skills that many capable entrepreneurs lack. I laugh sometimes wondering whether the number of coaches (life, work, career, leadership) will get so numerous that there wind up being more coaches than there are people to coach (although there will be opportunities to provide coaching to coaches).

            The work world is changing, and I believe for the better. I don’t believe, however, that even the fundamental shifts we are seeing is going to transform the basic tenets of what makes a successful workplace which include strong relationships, collaborations, communication, and a common goal that can only be accomplished through a concerted team effort.

            I hope those young women on the cover of the NYT Business section have the courage of their convictions and a strong bank account to survive their journey into self-employment.  I wish them luck in their endeavors and adventures and hope they succeed, but not everyone will. Going back to the office will not be the worst thing. They’ll still be able to celebrate that with a glass of Prosecco.

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