You’ve seen the signs like the one above everywhere. While it’s most noticeable in customer service industries like food service and retail, organizations across all industries are complaining about a “labor shortage”. But the shortage is not in the labor force – the national unemployment rate is nearly back to pre-pandemic numbers (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021). The real shortage is the availability of jobs with ethical compensation and flexible schedules. American workers have been asking for these things for years, and employers aren’t delivering, so as a result we’ve entered an era that many are calling “The Great Resignation”. But that title focuses too much blame on those choosing to leave their jobs. The focus should really be on the American workforce reshuffling their priorities, and choosing to focus on their needs based on those priorities. That’s why “The Great Reshuffle” is a much more appropriate title for the workforce revolution we’re all experiencing.
In spring of 2021, many companies that had been functioning remotely for the past year began to organize a return to in-person work as COVID cases were declining (this was before Delta and Omicron, of course). Many workers were enjoying being able to spend more time at home, and many weren’t given much choice in when or how they would go back to the office. So, workers were basically faced with an ultimatum: return to in-person work before they are ready, or quit. The graph below makes it clear what the majority of workers chose.
While millions of workers chose to leave their jobs, organizations became extremely strained, which put more pressure on those who chose to stay (or could not afford to quit). This amplified the issue as remaining employees started doing double or triple the work without any increase in pay or benefits, so they continued to quit. Thus, the term “Great Resignation” starts circulating in the news and media. This title has become a decisive topic as one camp touts that “no one wants to work!” but the other side asserts that they simply want better work conditions and compensation. Instead of this becoming a negotiation between employer and employee, the finger pointing has continued, and I believe the misnomer of “The Great Resignation” is partly to blame. This isn’t just about people quitting their jobs. This is about people realizing their worth and prioritizing their time, and finding out their employer doesn’t really care what their priorities are. That’s why it’s more of a “Great Reshuffle” – workers are reshuffling their priorities, and reshuffling the power dynamic.
I recognize that this phenomenon is more nuanced than a 500-word blog post will allow (I could write a whole other post about the disparity between white-collar and blue-collar jobs). But at its core, this is a workforce revolution, and personally I’m here for it. As an emerging professional who grew up being conditioned to think it was normal to hate your job, I’m excited to see the American workforce realize our collective power and using it to improve our quality of life. The Great reshuffle is far from over, and for better or worse, the American workforce will never be the same because of it.