Man walking away

The Great Resignation is All in Your Head

Is the Great Resignation a thing? Many say yes, but let’s head back to March 2020, where it all started.

I don’t have anything against Dollar General, and in fact, I did much of my childhood shoplifting there.

But in March of 2020, I only stopped at the discount store after finding my usual grocer was out of toilet paper.

I noticed a few four-packs strewn around a sparse shelf as I searched. I mall-walked to the back, avoiding eye contact with fellow shoppers.

It felt like I was back in 1996 hunting for Tickle Me Elmos.

Not long after that, the governor signed a stay-at-home order. Then the layoffs started.

Those furloughs became permanent for many friends and colleagues.

After mass layoffs and few job options during 2020, you might think those that kept their positions would stay out of loyalty.

Yet, some believe that many workers plan to make career moves in the coming months.

So many that Texas A&M professor Anthony Klotz minted the term “The Great Resignation.”

Klotz theorizes that as companies and employees found a new normal over the quarantine, there will be changes as employers ask their teams to return to the office.

With companies lifting hiring freezes and offering the choice to work from home, Klotz suggests remote options will be the new currency in the job market.

So, can human resources people expect to do extra paperwork in the next few months?

Or will most people fall back into their old ways of commuting and wearing pants during meetings?

The Great Resignation and Isolation

Many employers allow their teams to go in if they choose. Yet if you could take a snapshot of any random Zoom call, you’d find many are still at home.

I remember hearing the initial comments in March 2020: “Ugh, I’ve worked from home before, and I’m not doing it again unless I have to.”

Well, they had to. Now, some of those same people are still at home even though they can go back.

What happened?

People had time to think. As Delores from Westworld might say, we broke our loops. In this modern age, we tend to get so wrapped up in our day-to-day that we lose sight of life’s big picture.

Sure, many of us came to appreciate our jobs more after 2020, and we also did some soul searching.

As we lost sleep worrying about getting the dreaded phone call from human resources, we thought, do I even want this job?

In the short term, the answer is yes. I have bills.

But, in the long-term, is this where I want to be?

We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing, right?

You graduate, get a job, go to a few parties, wake up, and you’re 35.

Like Old Blue Eyes said, “That’s life.”

With the break in normalcy, people checked in with their life goals and saw they weren’t on track to meet them.

There’s more to it, though.

Part of Klotz’s theory is that there’s a backlog of resignations.

Anyone who planned to make career moves at the start of 2020 or before couldn’t follow through.

They were lucky to have any job. So, as companies start recruiting, we may see a spike in turnover as those people finalize their plans.

Then there are money and time savings that come with working from home.

Pennies at the tank and miles on the freeway add up.

With the extra cash and free time, people can spend more time with loved ones or finally start that hobby they’ve put off for years.

After enjoying these life changes, it’s no wonder there’s pushback when employers tell their teams to return to their 2019 habits.

That alone could spark The Great Resignation.

Is a Mass Resignation an Exaggeration?

Even considering the above, some say The Great Resignation is a mirage. Jack Kelly wrote in Forbes that while many say they’ll quit if forced back, most will return.

According to polls by Prudential Insurance in March 2021, only 13% of respondents said they preferred full on-site employment. Also, one in three said they wouldn’t want to work for an employer that required teams to be on site 100%.

As Kelly mentions, although most people don’t want to go back to an office, they probably will when it comes down to it.

Klotz says we should return, even if it’s just enough time to find another job.

This tactic also provides some buying power to negotiate options such as staying home part of the week. Not to mention it’s the professional thing to do.

Most people know it’s not wise to walk away from a steady income without having a plan to replace it.

Just remember, when you see people spaced out at their desks, they might not be thinking about closing the next sale.

Instead, they could be plotting their escape.

What’s the Problem, Anyway?

Man working from home, during the Great Resignation
Credit: JP Lockwood

For those that prefer to stay at home, it’s about balancing life and work.

Many people say they’re more productive in a home office.

So what does leadership think?

The clear reason is that people aren’t trusted out of sight. At least that’s the perception from the chicken coop.

Of course, at any given time in 2020, someone somewhere was napping or otherwise not working.

At the same time, those people most likely didn’t receive productivity awards in years prior, either.

Although if you’re a manager that doesn’t trust your team to be effective at home, why are they working for you?

Slackers will show their true colors one way or another, regardless of where they work.

Some organizations are looking into hybrid work models, allowing more flexibility.

Tim Cook announced to Apple employees that they would have the option to work from home twice a week and have an extra two weeks of remote time per year.

It didn’t go over well with the employees. So much so that they wrote a lengthy email in response, urging leadership against the idea.

Large employee bases like this confirm beliefs at smaller organizations and influence The Great Resignation.

But there are pros to meeting face-to-face. Even with video calls, messages don’t come across the same way as in person. When together, the conversation is more personable.

Each person receives the body language and has the listener’s full attention.

Also, interrupting isn’t as rude or mistaken as a connection issue.

Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek says that although there are options to work from home, people are better at brainstorming and more creative when together.

But consider this study from 2018 that examined interactions between coworkers when switched to an open office format.

Did productivity increase? No, it decreased by about 70%, which isn’t surprising.

Anyone that’s worked in an office knows that people are okay with interrupting others when at their desk.

But employees wouldn’t dare walk into someone’s office without knocking.

When we’re working at home and get an IM or email, we can get back to them when we’re free without breaking our concentration.

That’s why email and IM use increased after switching to an open floor plan.

Some appear unapproachable because they want privacy. Most employees do this with headphones.

We can’t apply any hard and fast rules to the whole workforce. It just depends on the job and field.

A fashion design team might be better suited to problem solve in person.

But many people aren’t in a position to be creative. Instead, they follow procedures and repeat the same task over and over.

There isn’t much spitballing going on while collating spreadsheets or approving payroll.

Future Definement

Considering the above, we will see a Great Resignation, and only it won’t be in the form of people immediately walking away from their jobs.

We won’t go back to the way it was either.

We’ll see a shift in traditional work values. In other words, people will realize that there’s more to life than our careers.

The Great Resignation will be a change in mindset and attitudes in our heads. That can include people re-assessing their career choices or negotiating work options with current employers.

It won’t happen quickly, but over time, people in the future will look back on our career expectations and question why we spent so much time focused on work.

Instead of quitting our jobs immediately, we can set long-term goals to get to where we want to be.

Sometimes that includes going back to school or earning certifications from companies like Microsoft.

Many people looking for jobs in the tech field are finding success with boot camps like Coding Dojo.

It’s the Information Age. Take advantage of it. None of us are experts at anything new to us, although we can always grow.

As writer Matt Lillywhite explains, we’ll make progress if we keep a future vision alive and consistently take steps to make it a reality.

Even if it takes time, we can work to be happy both professionally and personally.

Prepare for a Great Resignation of outdated expectations and mindsets in the workplace.

Many have already given notice.


Hi, I'm Greg. The pen IS mightier than the sword!