We were once concerned in oil and gas about the BIG CREW CHANGE…a situation we felt imminent with retirement of so many highly qualified individuals and those responsibilities falling upon the shoulders of less seasoned personnel. 

That concern has given way to THE GREAT RESIGNATION. A circumstance that sees the work force reducing itself for many reasons.

What could cause so many members of the American workforce to move to the sidelines? How can a group famous for a vigorous work ethic reduce their involvement in business, industry and production? The answers may well be in clear sight. Let’s examine a few causal factors as they may exist in your community.

Generations over the past 75 years amassed significant assets and liquidity. Your parents and grandparents may have gone through World War I, the Great Depression and World War II with little more than food to eat and some form of shelter. No big homes or fine cars. No ability to improve their lot in life with any certainty. They emerged with a greater desire to acquire than those since. You see, when you feel you have little or no luxury and such a thing exist for the taking from hard work, work comes naturally to many.  Those may not have even considered retirement.

Subsequent generations have now inherited much of these assets and the freedom such holdings bring. A home, cash and investments may have passed from the old to the young. The mantra is preparing for comfortable retirement. Well- educated, many feel entitled to a less labor-intensive lifestyle.  Managers and supervisors from day one, the system produces those who see themselves above blue collar jobs and tend to look down upon those who survive from manual labor. Few indeed are those who leave higher education with the desire, nay the skill, to perform a manual trade. The thought is that work of any kind is less desirable than not working.

Our culture has not only accepted labor-saving devices wholeheartedly, we demand them. Doing something by hand is often frowned upon. In fact, the simplest tasks undertaken by our predecessors are now the exclusive realm of machines. No paper fan to cool your face, no washing dishes, no washing clothing, not even a broom to sweep the pristine hardwood flooring in your manse. Ceiling fans, air conditioning, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, robotic vacuum cleaners and many more devices are the rule rather than the exception. My grandfather eschewed automatic transmissions as they took away some of his control over his car.  Perhaps humorous now, but a very real point to contemplate when considering the current situation.

Now we have many with much and feeling a lack of freedom. Add to that the fact that social support is at an all-time high.  Perhaps brought on recently by the COVID 19 virus and the reaction of many governments to helping those whose lives have been interrupted or perhaps simply the welfare systems proliferation worldwide, in any case the amount of support for individuals and companies is unprecedented.

It might also be said that the very nature of lockdowns and closed workplaces has created an understanding in the workforce that things can be different, and we still survive. Not in my lifetime has such a change in daily activities been so universal in its effect. Not just New York and Los Angeles, but London and Athens. The whole world has felt some significant change in the normal routine. Routine. That may be the most important factor in what we see. The routine has been broken and workers can, perhaps for the first time in their lives, see a different way to be.

Now, lest I become accused of carping about the laziness of the workforce or some other false narrative, let’s also examine where the workers are going. Not just to the living room to watch TV.

Some have taken the chance to become entrepreneurs. New, small businesses are springing up at a rapid pace. Trades are being learnt and talents exposed where they had been cloistered before. Taking time to paint or play an instrument might not have been possible in the daily grind. Some, yes, simply decided to take to the sidelines and perhaps that is most. Yet, we must be aware that any change is a bit shocking. Don’t let’s forget things tend to go very well when left to their own outcomes. By that I mean, the new ways of working, the new careers, the newly freed talents will inure to our benefit. Things will go on and in time be better than before.

In short, I prefer to consider the Great Resignation more as the Great Realignment. We are human and will find ways to perfect our existence in any circumstance. That, after all, is how we work.