In the last few weeks much has been said about a shift in the economy, with many workers opting to leave their places of employment. This movement, dubbed “the great resignation,” illustrates a curious trend that has not been seen in generations: namely, how workers are more emboldened to exert their power by withholding and dictating what they wish to do with their own labor.
University of Texas sociologist Jennifer Glass noted in August that there may be a few converging factors at play. Glass identified demographics as one key issue, with many workers on the cusp of retirement making the decision to walk away from their professions because of the pandemic. Similarly, the economic strain from the pandemic — both with few earnings as well as feeling less enthused about consumption — has also played a significant role, as the threat of possible exposure to the virus has influenced many to rethink their relationship to earning and spending money. In many ways, this also carries into how workers perceive their relationship to their jobs and their employers.
This month, the American Psychological Association (APA) released the findings for its “2021 Work and Well-being Survey,” which was collected from 1,500 participants this summer. The report provides a glimpse into work-life stress in the middle of a global pandemic. This is even more notable given that the timing of the survey happened to coincide with news reports of increased resignations.
According to the APA, more than 2 in 5 employees intended to change their jobs. This owes much to another significant metric that noted an estimated 71 percent of workers felt tense or stressed during the workday. Likewise, low salaries, long hours and lack of opportunity for growth or advancement were also key contributors. Per the APA, these metrics were higher for the 2021 survey when compared to its 2019 report.
The report also noted that workers who were “Hispanic,” Black, LGBTQ+ and/or disabled were opting to leave their places of employment in higher numbers than their counterparts. These groups had also reported being targeted for discrimination in higher numbers. Anecdotal evidence appears to suggest this in many industries, including health care, social services and retail, among others.
The “great resignation” coincides with a moment in time in which there is recognition that essential work also carries a higher health risk, both by increased stress and workload as well as the probability of contracting COVID-19. Workers are exerting their power and reimagining a new reality that sees the workforce as more than a “human resource” that can be commodified. Collectively, the opportunity to live a dignified existence and to be properly compensated for our labor had felt like an unattainable goal.
There will be no going back.
Oscar Rosales grew up in the Yakima Valley and works and resides in Seattle.
Read more of the Oct. 27 - Nov. 2, 2021 issue.