The Great Resignation, Opting Out, The Quit, The Great Reshuffle, The Great Attrition… What’s really going on?!

It’s all over the media:

The Great Resignation! No no, no one is calling it that anymore, it’s The Quit. The what? No, no one wants to quit altogether, people need to make a living. The Great Reshuffle is more accurate. Although since it is something that is happening to workers all over the world, maybe The Great Attrition is the thing?

…and on it goes. Meanwhile, I’m still talking about ‘opting out’. 

What really is going on? What’s what?

I’m going to let you in on a secret. It’s actually all the same thing.

I started researching opting out in 2009. Yes, it’s that long ago. When I started, it was a debate that had been going on for a few years already, ever since that by now famous New York Times article The Opt-Out Revolution was published in 2003. And the truth is, although people were talking about a revolution, it really wasn’t that revolutionary at all. People have opted out to work on their own terms long before we knew to call it opting out. What was different in 2003 was that they were thought to be doing it in larger numbers than before. 

No one really knew, though, exactly how large the numbers were. No one was measuring how many people actually were leaving their jobs or careers to work on different terms. There were numbers on how may left the workforce altogether, but as I already mentioned, people do need to work, so not surprisingly those number weren’t very high at all, nor were they on the rise. 

But then COVID hit and suddenly everything became extreme. 

Companies started doing things they thought were impossible. Governments and organizations started cooperating in ways they had never dreamed of. Restaurants and entertainers fell on really hard times – harder than most of us can imagine. People actually slowed down enough to smell the coffee, except for healthcare worker of course who became the temporary heroes of the world (I say temporary because let’s face it, we have really short memories and now that things are somewhat under control I think most people have gone back to taking them for granted).

Things became extreme and people in the US started quitting their jobs in never before seen numbers. Hashtags like #quittingmyjob or #antiwork started circulating on social media. Terms were coined left and right to describe what was happening (see my first paragraph) and people started to feel a pressing need to measure what was really going on. And presto, now we have numbers:

About 40% of people are considering quitting their jobs and up to 70% (depending on what study you read) are dreaming of doing so. In addition, over 50% of the work force is burned out. These number are shockingly high!

But when you scratch the surface, it turns out that it’s always about the same thing: It’s about people. It’s about stress. It’s about feelings of insecurity. It’s about not having control over your life. It’s about exhaustion. It’s about lacking a sense of meaning. It’s about feeling that something has got to give. 

And all this is hugely important regardless of what we call it. 

There have always been people who have opted out. That isn’t new. But what is different now is the sheer magnitude of it. Up to 70% percent dream of doing it!

So yes, something has got to give.

I’ve written a book on women opting out, and another on men, and now it is high time to focus on what organizations need to do. 70% is not sustainable, organizations need to act and they need to do it now. We need work places people don’t dream of leaving, we need organizational cultures that make people want to stay. 

With that, I’m starting to work on my next book. I’m going to revive this blog (yes, it’s been relatively quiet here lately) and I’m going to use it to explore and discuss issues and aspects of my book. 

I hope you will follow me on this journey. In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. If you work somewhere where they are doing things right (anything, big or small), or if your workplace is a place you don’t long to leave, please tell me about it. 

What are they doing right and why is it good? You can email me at theoptingoutblog@gmail.com

3 thoughts on “The Great Resignation, Opting Out, The Quit, The Great Reshuffle, The Great Attrition… What’s really going on?!

  1. Pingback: Why are middle managers so unhappy? (And why is it so hard for me to write about?!) | the opting out blog

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