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‘Great Resignations’

/ 04:07 AM October 20, 2021

Resign” generally has negative connotations, as when we call on a head of state or a company executive to resign. It can also mean passive acceptance of one’s situation, even when it is negative. Finally, among work-oriented cultures, to resign from work suggests laziness, incompetence, even dishonesty.

In some countries, governments monitor resignations, considering them important. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics, for example, has its Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS) and there has been concern about 2021 recording all-time high numbers of such “quits.” The upward trend started in April and reached its highest in August with 2.9 percent of the labor force resigning or, in absolute numbers, 4.3 million people. (The September figures won’t be released until November.)

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The sectors with the highest number of resignations were accommodations and food (in other words, hotels and restaurants), retail (supermarkets), and health care and social assistance.

JOLTS asked people why they resigned and, not surprisingly, “better pay” topped the answers (50 percent), followed by “starting own business” (44 percent), “remote work” (43 percent), and finding work “about which they were more passionate” (41 percent).

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There have been many other articles coming out with interviews of people who resigned from their jobs and their explanations are much more complex than the three reasons given above.

Workers’ burnout is common, including references to the “Great Rudeness” used to refer to the extra stress faced by workers in hospitality industries, especially in the airlines, dealing with passengers’ unreasonable demands and rage episodes.

Anthony Klotz, a psychologist and management professor at Texas A&M University who first used the term “Great Resignation,” also uses another term, “pandemic epiphanies,” referring to the way COVID-19 is pushing people into “aha” moments. This comes from the pandemic adding more stress to work, for example, the greater demands with work from home (WFH) arrangements. Paradoxically, other people go in the other direction, finding more fulfillment in WFH and leaving their current job when they feel such arrangements might be ending and they have to return to office work.

Work fulfillment seems to be the key and Klotz talks too about an existential crisis where people’s work choices are related to questions about life … and, in the context of the pandemic, about illness and death. In a nutshell, people realize how short life is and wonder if it’s worthwhile staying on in a crappy job only because you need the money.

This seems to be happening in China as well, where Generation Z, those born between 1996 and 2010, are going through a massive existential crisis that started even before the pandemic.

They complain about “jiu jiu liu” or 996, referring to 12-hour shifts (i.e., 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. or vice versa) six days a week with demanding bosses and customers. The situation is dire, with one study published by the German IZA or Institute of Labor Economics estimating some 600,000 Chinese are victims each year of “guolaoshi,” which uses exactly the same written characters as the Japanese “karoshi,” meaning death from overwork.

The result is resigning from the regular jobs and moving into the gig economy, freelancing with contractual jobs around writing, photography, art, and accounting. A quarter of the Chinese workforce or 200 million people are now in “flexible employment.”

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“Tang ping,” or lying on a plank, is another Chinese phenomenon, which means opting out of a hypercompetitive society and deciding not to get married, not owning property, or not working at all. So alarming is this tang ping trend that Chinese president Xi Jinping delivered a speech recently warning against this “lying flat.”

What’s the situation in the Philippines?

Certainly, the gig economy is becoming attractive for young people—I see it among my graduate students for example, who will end up teaching English to Japanese students online, or take on writing and illustrating jobs, all handled from the house. All that’s known too is a variation of contractual labor, with problems of its own like delayed payments and a lack of social insurance.

Such jobs do require special skills and a college education so we’re not about to see a massive exodus into the gig economy, much less a Great Resignation. The bigger problem is getting a job, period.

We do need to watch Filipinos’ choices for work and their levels of job fulfillment. I worry about deteriorating work standards and know it’s because people stay in a job only because they have no choice.

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