Issue #23: What's real about the 'Great Resignation'?
And what's merely an oversimplified hype?
Like many people, I’ve experienced challenging experiences in my professional life. I’ve been in jobs with an abusive employer, worked for an exploitative salary (who doesn’t like working for a minimum wage after obtaining a master’s degree?) and endured some #MeToo behavior. Yet, I never dared to quit my job despite unpleasant experiences immediately. ‘You gotta push through; I still tell myself when challenges appear. I try to solve issues — and I only feel comfortable enough to quit once I have another safe option. After all, I belong to the group of people who has to build saving themselves and can’t hope for a big inheritance or real estate to fall into my lap.
Due to these experiences, I’ve wondered how much of the talk about the ‘Great Resignation’ could have been true. Living in an increasingly expensive city, I believe that many people don’t dare to give up their income as it’s at least something they can rely on — despite pressure, burnout, and the feeling of being stuck. Therefore, I looked at the numbers and the debate surrounding the ‘Great Resignation’ — and I learned that we’re not at a pivotal turning point, but something is happening in the minds of workers and employers.
I hope you enjoy the read!
Headlines you shouldn’t miss
BOSTON GLOBE Seven jobs that will never be the same after the pandemic: Restaurant workers, baristas, supermarket & retail cashiers, truck drivers, warehouse and logistics workers, Uber/Lyft drivers, hotel workers — all of these occupations went through drastic changes due to the pandemic. Businesses are learning to work with a leaner workforce or opt for automation. These accessible jobs are changing — for the better or worse.
WASHINGTON POST MIT expert on work says any boss who thinks employees will return to offices is dreaming: Thomas Malone, professor at MIT and director of MIT’s Center for Collective Intelligence, explains in an interview that the power dynamics in the workplace have shifted towards the workers. The majority of workers prefer to work remotely, and business leaders are likely to comply. However, the need for spontaneous meetings and serendipity is still pressing in cognitively demanding areas.
FINANCIAL TIMES Minority staff want to spend more time working from home: Business owners who want to create a diverse workforce must be sensitive to the different preferences of minority groups: According to new studies, people of color have a higher inclination to work remotely than white people. Researchers believe that minorities see a way of reducing unpleasant, racist experiences when working remotely. Additionally, highly educated mothers want to work remotely more often than their male peers. Remote work might be essential to create diversity.
FORTUNE INDIA 82% Indians look to befriend AI for career growth: Oracle’s AI@Work study among 14,600 workers in the US, the U.K., Germany, France, China, India, Australia, Brazil, Japan and South Korea found out that globally, people have been feeling stuck in their personal and professional lives and for the majority, the definition of success has changed during the pandemic. Workers on all continents are ready to regain control over their lives. Indians, in particular, seem to be optimistic about technology helping them: 82% of all workers want to work in a company that uses AI to boost their careers — way ahead of the 55% global average.
THE REGISTER When AI and automation come to work you stress less – but hate your job more: A recent study on the worker’s wellbeing facing automation and AI by the Georgia Institute of Technology suggests that work can become less stressful when using AI. However, workers might become unhappier. They can experience feelings of devaluation and loss when technology is performing a significant chunk of their work.
THE GUARDIAN Big tech’s push for automation hides the grim reality of ‘microwork’: Author Phil Jones warns about the rising trend of ‘microwork.’ For AI data sets and other databases, workers need to code images. While services like Amazon Mechanical Turk offer compensation, it remains pretty low.
Wrap-up of the week: Is the Great Resignation really happening?
❓ For months, economists, pundits, and journalists have been debating the so-called ‘Great Resignation’ — a trend that is supposedly happening across all sectors in various economies and is marked by an unusually high number of people leaving. I’ve been wondering if the ‘Great Resignation’ has really been this incredible trend — or merely a hype? I couldn’t connect the dots: How are millions of people supposed to quit during a pandemic while, in many places, real estate prices and rents have not stopped rising? How can workers be so sure that there is an alternative waiting for them once they resign?
🌎 What seems to be happening: Across the globe, people are discussing a shift in priorities. According to the US Bureau of Labor, 4.3 million people quit their job in August 2021, roughly 2,9 % of the workforce. In Australia, nearly half of the working population is planning to change careers within 12 months. And in Europe’s large economies in Germany, the UK, and France, workers seem to be shifting their outlook on labor.
😃 But who and what is driving the ‘Great Resignation’? According to HR researcher Ian Cook, it’s primarily mid-career workers in high-paying fields like tech or burned-out frontline workers in the care sector. Note that these two groups are highly in demand and are likely to find jobs due to the drastic labor shortage. The Atlantic writer Derek Thomson argues that the values of workers have changed as they spend more time with their families and understand that workism and hustle culture might not be the most relevant goals in life. What I find interesting is the sense of hope and optimism in the drivers of the ‘Great Resignation’ — people seem to be confident enough that things will be alright in their professional and private lives to opt for changes. Considering the negative cultural momentum many Western countries have been stuck in since The Great Recession, there seems to be something new happening.
💭 However, there is still a big misconception about ‘The Great Resignation’: The rates of workers leaving their workplaces aren’t exceptional. What media and researchers mainly discuss isn’t the rate of people who quit their job but the share of people who are contemplating resigning. Organizational behaviorist Martha Maznevski and public policy lecturer Jay Zagorsky argue that there is a trend towards questioning hustle culture as many workers are burned out. However, in the US, quitting was already at an all-time high before the pandemic in 2019. And the supposedly exceptionally high numbers that are presented aren’t that surprising. The highest turnover rates are in the food service sector and leisure industry, where changing personnel has always been standard. There are two completely different trends, Maznevski says: “One is people who are professionals, who are making a choice between ‘good’ and ‘better.’ The other category is people who are making a choice between something that is really terrible, unhealthy and toxic, and survival. Those are two very different dynamics.”
😫 Even though there has been a broad discussion about workers leaving their jobs, the vast majority remains. And their work conditions are often draining and soul-crushing. Perceptyx suggests that 34% of the workers are disconnected and tired while barely having their needs met at work. 13% of the employees say their employers don’t meet their needs at all. While experts believe that working conditions could improve in the wake of the ‘Great Resignation’ debate, it is uncertain if these improvements will apply to all jobs. The labor market is complex, which creates winners and losers at all times and where some skills could be in demand today and utterly irrelevant in a couple of decades. ‘The Great Resignation’ could highlight the challenges workers face in the labor market — but only if the conversation shifts towards a more honest dialogue that includes both the satisfied job-quitters and the challenged ‘remainers.’
Stats of the week: Germany’s learning AI
A new study by Tata Consultancy Services and Bitkom Research shows that German companies are slowly becoming more comfortable with artificial intelligence and overall digitization. Between 2016 and 2020, the share of companies that employ someone to coordinate digitization rose from 43% to 56%.
Two-thirds of businesses believe that “AI will make day-to-day work easier for the company’s staff” and 53% agree with the statement that “in ten years, knowledge of AI will be just as important as knowledge of office software.”
Still, there are only a few companies in Germany using AI, but nearly every fifth business is discussing options to implement it:
Quote of the week: Google’s Satya Nadella on AI in the workplace
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella explains in an interview for Harvard Business Review what he thinks of flexible work, the metaverse and the impact of artificial intelligence:
I think AI is going to show up as that next level of automation, the next level of intelligence/prediction that is going to be there in our everyday experiences. And so we are building it in. So even from a company perspective, they’ll just show up to you as features in products you use. We also are enabling anyone who can build an Excel spreadsheet can also build applications going forward where they can use these AI models as platforms themselves. Just like how you could have a formula that could build on somebody else’s calculation and formula, that’s the same way the composition would work even when it comes to AI.
Recommendation of the week: Watch Katharine Hayhow explaining how climate change affects work & businesses
Katharine Hayhoe explains on CNBC how climate change affects manufacturing and supply changes. The scientist touches upon the future of work and decarbonizing strategies. Watch here: The Next Global Threat: Climate Change and The Future of Work (cnbc.com)