You might have heard about the Great Resignation in the media. There might be the impression that these people leaving are lazy or just wanting to receive welfare. That cannot be further away from the truth. Employers have held on to the longer end of the stick for a long time and the pandemic has fuelled the shift of bargaining power back to the employees. In this article, we will look at what is the Great Resignation and its place in Singapore.
What Is The Great Resignation?
This Great Resignation movement started in early 2021, mainly in the United States. It coincided with the stimulus payment by the US government due to the pandemic. Just in November 2022 alone, 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs.
The r/antiwork subreddit represented a group of people that dislike working and showing off how much they are slacking off on paid time at first. However, it transformed into a subreddit that highlights bad working environments mostly due to bad management and sometimes even during the interview stage. A new subreddit called r/workreform was later created to separate themselves from the minority that doesn’t want to work at all.
Here are some of the top posts on the two subreddits to demonstrate the frustrations of workers.
If you are active on Reddit, you would have seen posts from these two subreddits on the front page quite often these two years.
Although many quit on the spot, there are also many that immediately start looking for a new job after facing unfair treatment by management.
Why Are People Resigning?
During such trying times, why are people still tendering their resignations? We will look at some reasons why people are quitting despite the insecurity the pandemic brought to the working class.
Bad Working Environment
Ranging from poor covid measures at the workplace to abusive and entitled management to increased hours without appropriate compensation, workers feel that they are not appreciated.
They also don’t want to be forced to go back to a physical office when remote working is a feasible option. Commuting to work daily both wastes time and money when these two finite resources can be better spent on family, hobbies and self-care.
These workers do not want to take further abuse from their employers and if they are in a financial position to leave, they will either leave immediately or start applying for a new position elsewhere.
Liked mentioned in the beginning, most workers are not leaving just because they want to sleep at home and collect welfare from the government. These workers just found something better than their previous job. The negative items mentioned under the previous points are addressed by their new employers, sometimes also with a pay bump, providing a better working environment for the workers.
Tired Of The Grind
Mainly due to the pandemic, people are tired of the grind and have started to think about what they really want out of life. After working remotely, there is more “me time” and time for self-reflection.
During the grind, there is little to no time to breathe and think and life revolved around work. Maybe that is why some people need to travel so often to recharge, which further fuels their need to grind to pay for their travels, being stuck in the work-travel cycle.
After experiencing remote work and having more time to reflect, some realize that life is much more than just work and wonder whether it is worth it grinding away a third of your life just to chase materialistic wants like the latest gadgets, posh cars or private property.
Also, after witnessing the wealth gap increasing and corporations making record profits while salaries stay stagnant, this has a demotivating effect on employees. Workers are not getting the compensation they deserve and desire despite the work put in. They don’t see the point of grinding to make someone else rich. With inflation rates increasing and staying high, any pay increment lesser than inflation is a pay cut.
Great Resignation Movement Across The Globe
Although the movement started in the US, the pandemic and being overworked (sometimes without proper compensation) have fuelled a wave of resignations across the globe.
2 – 5% of workers in major countries across Europe have resigned.
A movement called ‘Lying Flat’ is happening in China where participants refuse to conform to the infamous “996” work culture. They rather live frugally and not chase after status and wealth, prioritizing health and happiness.
India has also seen many people quit, with over a million resignations in the IT sector in 2021.
In the 3 months leading up to February 2022, 300 thousand workers say that they are leaving their current job for a better one. Also, over 1 million workers started new jobs from August 2021 to October 2021.
Great Resignation In Singapore
So are workers in Singapore quitting in droves? I remember seeing an article highlighting social media posts calling out the Singapore government and healthcare sector that nurses and doctors are leaving their positions, increasing the workload on the existing workforce. Compared to previous periods, there are more healthcare workers leaving their positions.
According to the official statistics, there is still a net increase (recruitment less resignation) for the healthcare sector, however, it might be due to the increase in recruitment in temp positions instead of perm ones.
The sectors that are hit worse than healthcare are accommodation, arts and transport with multiple quarters having a negative recruitment rate.
According to a study by Microsoft, 49% of Singaporeans are thinking of leaving their job but I don’t think many of them will pull the trigger. The average Singaporean is typically more conservative and is tied down by commitments like family and housing. The government has also spent a lot of money subsidizing salaries to reduce the impact of the pandemic measures. This has allowed more employees to continue getting paid without a pay cut despite the drop in business viability. Working conditions during the pandemic is also generally protective of workers and remote working is also being promoted by the government.
The resentment towards employers could be lesser due to these factors plus the demand for job security in these times could be the mitigating factor for now. However, this does not employees to float their resumes around to look for new job opportunities. It just means that it is more unlikely employees quit before finding another job.
Shift Of Power Back To Working Class
The power has shifted more towards the working class during these times as more workers realize their worth and call out the bluff of employer threats.
Better Working Conditions
Workers will now demand better working conditions like allowing remote work and being paid properly. Without workers, businesses cannot function. There is the argument that automation will replace these “rowdy employees” but it will not work anymore. If these job functions can be automated just like that, these employers would have already jumped at the chance of doing so. It is very costly to implement automation and not all business models can afford to do so. When I did the temp warehouse packer job, I wondered why do they hire over 50 employees to do everything manually when I realised that it must be significantly cheaper to use manual labour and the margins must be too low to justify automation at their scale.
Even if the “cost of rowdy employees” pushed the company over the edge to automate these functions, I believe it is a net positive for society and the workers will be better off being retrained in another function.
Employees won’t take shit from employers any longer so if management attempts to micromanage or mentally abuse their workers, be sure that their employees are on their way out.
Interviews Now Work Both Ways
We generally see interviews as a way for employers to vet through employees. But now, employees will also vet through employers and look for any red flags during the interview or reviews online.
Play stupid games and you will win stupid prizes. You also lose a potentially valuable player to your competitor. The workplace should equally benefit both sides of the employment contract and now employees are finally realizing that they don’t need to beg for employment when they also bring value to the table.
Companies now even need to provide incentives for workers just to attend an interview and stay employed. Without permanent improvements in working conditions like remuneration and welfare, all these short-term incentives will not work.
Next Better Player
The working class now realizes that they also get to choose who to work for. If the employer is unable to fulfil their end of the deal, employees are just going to work for someone who better values their skill and time. Despite seeing improved productivity and profits from remote working, there are some companies that still want to switch back to fully working in the office. Goldman Sachs CEO demanded that all employees return physically to the office but only half followed his instructions.
People don’t want to be micromanaged anymore and multiple hours and money saved from not commuting daily are pushing employees to look for a company that allows for remote work or at least a hybrid format. If you are unable to provide enough reasons for the employee to stay, your employee will already have one foot out the door.
Impact On The Economy
So how would the change in employee mindset affect the economy and society? Here are some speculations of mine that the Great Resignation would bring.
Eliminate Lousy Companies
Companies that are unable to keep up with evolving employee demands won’t be able to attract and retain talents, while their competitors swoop up these talents.
Companies will need to revamp the way they are doing things. It might have worked “well” for decades but it won’t be the case anymore. Treat your employees as humans, allow for some form of remote work if possible and remove excessive micromanagement if you want to still be attractive for employees. Of course, employees have to also fulfil their end of the bargain and finish their tasks. Maybe lousy companies will only attract irresponsible workers, then it will be a race to the bottom and unless some radical change occurs, that industry might just vanish.
Although it might cost more, it might be the only way forward if no one wants to work at these jobs anymore with that kind of pay. There might be a short period of higher unemployment so we will need programs to assist in the transition for the replacement of workers due to automation. We can’t stop the development of cars just because we don’t want the horse carriages industry to lose jobs.
Demand For Physical Offices Drop
When more people are working remotely, the need for physical officers drop. Companies will be able to get away with a small office space or even make use of co-working spaces. Although there might be a higher demand for co-working spaces, the net physical office space needed across the board will fall.
The money that is saved on rental can be better spent on the growth of the company or paying their employees more.
More Resignations To Come
Once the economy recovers and we are over the pandemic, people might feel safer to finally leave their old jobs to look for a new employer or even pursue something different completely. It is more of a Great Reshuffle than a Great Resignation where we will see employees move to employers or industries that can fulfil their needs.
The Great Resignation is the shifting of power to the working class. Employees are actually switching over to different employers or industries that better fit their needs instead of just resigning. Workers are realizing their worth and are demanding better working conditions. Remote work has led employees to see the benefits of having more time, freedom and savings although productivity remained or even increased. This has led to the Great Resignation movement, leaving behind lousy employers that can no longer meet evolving employee needs and employees starting to migrate to those that can provide a better working environment.
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