What the "Great Resignation" and "Quiet Quitting" Have In Common

October 11, 2022

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Since 2020, the global economy has undergone a massive shift due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many office-based jobs adapted and adopted work-from-home policies. Some have returned to the office, some have implemented a hybrid model, while others have kept the work-from-home policies in place. On the other hand, many service jobs were forced to totally shut down, then re-opened and had to navigate mask policies for both their employees and customers. The fallout from this uncertainty and structural change has resulted in the Great Resignation, followed by Quiet Quitting.

What is the “Great Resignation”?

Though there’s some evidence that the Great Resignation started even before the pandemic, it generally refers to the period beginning in 2021 when employees began to voluntarily resign from their jobs at an unusually high rate. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks this data, and following an initial drop during the onset of the pandemic, there was a sharp rise.

Monthly quits in the United States, as a percent of total employment

By JOLTS, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Public Domain

According to the Pew Research Center, the top 3 reasons why Americans left their jobs were:

  1. Pay was too low
  2. No opportunities for advancement
  3. Felt disrespected at work

One mistake when thinking about the Great Resignation is directly correlating it with the unemployment rate. While the quit rate is much higher than prior to the pandemic, the overall unemployment rate is approximately the same. This means that workers who voluntarily quit, are finding other work, implying that labor is in demand and that workers are more willing to change jobs.

What is “Quiet Quitting”?

Unlike the Great Resignation, where employees officially left their jobs, Quiet Quitting is when workers choose to simply meet their job description and nothing more. Most employers are looking for employees that “go above and beyond” or “give 110%,” but Quiet Quitters strive to set boundaries and fulfill their job duties, without having to overextend. While the term was coined in 2009, it was popularized in 2021 by users with viral videos on TikTok.

According to research from Gallup, Quiet Quitters make up at least 50% of the U.S. workforce. Moreover, Gallup finds that employee engagement has fallen and:

The overall decline [in employee engagement] was especially related to clarity of expectations, opportunities to learn and grow, feeling cared about, and a connection to the organization’s mission or purpose – signaling a growing disconnect between employees and their employers.

Instead of thinking about these two phenomena as separate ideas, it’s useful to think of them as two sides of the same coin. While Quiet Quitters chose to stay in the same job, Great Resigners instead chose to leave their jobs altogether.

When you look at the research from Pew about why employees chose to resign, and the research from Gallup about why employees chose to quiet quit, you’ll notice strong similarities. Pew cites no opportunities for advancement and felt disrespected for the Great Resignation, while Gallup cites opportunities to learn and grow and feeling cared about for Quiet Quitting.

This shows that both of these phenomena are in part caused by employees feeling disengaged from their jobs. While the reasons behind this disengagement can be varied and complex – changing economic conditions, remote work, pandemic stress, etc. – it means that it’s more important than ever for employers to monitor employee engagement, and to take corrective action before it’s too late.

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