You’ve probably heard of the Great Resignation. In just 2021, 47 million people quit their jobs, and millions continue to quit each month. But people aren’t quitting because they’re lazy or they don’t want to work, they’re quitting because they are taking back their life from jobs that don’t respect them. So let’s talk about why people are resigning, how they’re taking action, why this is a pivotal moment in how we think about work, and why we can’t squander it and go back to the current unjust system.

Let’s start with the why. Why are people quitting their jobs? One of the main reasons is what you would expect. Compensation. According to the Center for American Progress, the industries with the lowest pay and benefits, like retail and food services, have the highest quit rates. Another reason people are quitting their jobs is toxic culture. Whether it be rude bosses or a gossipy culture, a company being toxic is more likely to drive people out than low pay. That’s not saying that pay isn’t a factor, I think the combo of people treating you horribly while treading water above the poverty line isn’t exactly a recipe for employee retention. I also just think people are valuing their time more. I’ve seen this both in online posts and people around me that this was kind of a wake-up call for people. I think seeing so much death up close made people realize that, as cliche as it sounds, we only have one short life so why spend it working for a company that doesn’t care about you?

Okay, now we know why people want to quit, but what are people doing about it? Well first, people are following through on that intention to quit. In February alone, 4.4 million people quit their jobs, and it shows no signs of stopping. But it’s not just quitting, people are trying to make their current jobs better. There’s been a wave of people unionizing at chains like Starbucks and Amazon. Right now, workers in more than 100 Starbucks locations are organizing union votes, and 26 have already voted yes. Just weeks ago, the first Amazon union in the country was formed. It’s the same story at McDonalds, Chipotle, Hershey’s and many others. It’s not just unions that have gained more popularity. Strikes are increasing as well. Workers at Kellogg’s, and Frito Lay are striking due to unfair and downright inhumane labor conditions at their companies. And one final example of the rise in anger about labor injustice is the growth of the subreddit r/antiwork. Every day, thousands of people post and comment about quitting their unfair job and encouraging others to do the same. In March 2020, the subreddit had 100,000 members. In March 2022, it had 1.8 million, a 1700% increase in 2 years. So, we have determined that people are quitting, unionizing, striking, and mad at their jobs. But how are companies responding? 

A good way to gauge that is in articles by management consultants and business magazines, because they influence a lot of managers. Some common things these articles suggest include free car washes and yoga classes. But, don’t those cost money themselves? Why don’t you just use that to pay your employees directly? This mindset is so problematic to me, because the companies who do this don’t understand that loyalty goes both ways. You can’t expect someone to put in maximum effort in exchange for poverty wages and free kombucha. If you want someone to care about your company, you have to show the same care about them, and that is something many companies today so badly fail to grasp. When you look at all of that, it’s obvious why people are quitting. This is the recipe for an unstable job market, 400 years in the making. 

But it’s not hopeless. If you’re a working adult, that’s all you need to be to change things. When applying for jobs, expect to know the salary and ask for more because you’re worth it. Talk with your coworkers and friends about your salary and find out who’s not getting paid enough. And if you’re a manager, consider giving your employees a raise, being more flexible with hours, and having a more transparent hiring process. If you’re a politician or interested in policy, you can advocate for laws that make work fairer, such as mandatory salary disclosure, anti-union busting laws, and paid parental leave. Even if you’re a kid, you can talk to your parents and encourage them to fight for better labor practices. It’s also important to know this information now, because it means the next generation will be where these practices might stop. Above all, we can’t just go back to the awful normal. I want to close on a quote from Sara Nelson, the president of the AFL-CIO, who said “For over 50 years management has tried to teach workers that they should feel lucky to have a job. For the next 50 years we need to teach management that they should feel lucky to have our work.”