The “Great Resignation”—What Is It and Why Is It Happening?

Sometimes, a major world event can have far-reaching and unexpected impacts well beyond the event itself. In the case of the global COVID pandemic (which apparently we are STILL not done with), something’s happening in the job market that is causing economists and sociologists to scratch their heads in wonder. It’s a phenomenon they’ve named “The Great Resignation.”

Here it is in a nutshell. After millions were thrown out of work during the lockdowns, when the economy finally began opening up in 2021, not only were employers having problems filling positions…but a record number of people started quitting their jobs.

That’s right. Not only were people not applying for jobs, even after pandemic unemployment ran out…but people who were working, were quitting.

It hasn’t happened just once. A record number of people resigned in April 2021. Then again in August. Then September. Then November. It’s still happening.

And the thing that’s been baffling the people who study this stuff is that many of these people aren’t quitting to pursue other job offers. They’re just quitting.


What the Data Shows

After months of watching this trend, experts are finally getting a bead on what’s been happening with “The Great Resignation” and what’s triggering it. Here are some of the main reasons they’re seeing people resign their jobs:

  • They didn’t like their job to begin with. After months of being out of work (or working from home), people got a taste of what it’s like to be out of the rat race. They didn’t like how they were treated at work before the pandemic, but they put up with it because they felt they didn’t have a choice. When they went back, they found they didn’t have any tolerance for unpleasant work conditions, not being appreciated, or not being valued or included as a member of the company.
  • They are finding more favorable work opportunities, especially at home. Remote work has taken off big time during the pandemic. A lot of workers are either taking these remote jobs or looking for them because they’ve discovered they can do their work faster and have more flexibility and autonomy at home—and still have time for their families.
  • They are going into business for themselves. The “gig industry” was already big before the pandemic; it’s even bigger now. While they were out of work, millions of people figured out they could make money freelancing online in one way or another. Since the pandemic hit, the number of new applications for federal tax IDs jumped 56 percent, and most of those applicants. expected to hire no employees besides themselves.

My Take on It

These trends are telling, but in my humble opinion, they don’t tell the whole story. I think there’s a deeper “why” at work here, and it’s something you’ll be hearing me talk about a lot in the upcoming months…

What I’m observing is that people are seeking to reinvent themselves.

When something major happens like this pandemic, it has a way of jerking people out of their comfort zones and causing them to have a fresh perspective on what’s important in life. The pandemic forced us to slow down, breathe, and realize that even though it was hard, we could survive without going 90 miles an hour. You could feel it here in New York City during the shutdowns. Yes, there was a lot of worry and financial stress—I’m not downplaying that—but at the same time, I’d never heard the streets so quiet. The noise level went way down. The city air became crisp and clean because people weren’t mucking it up with their cars. When you slow down like that, you get a better grip on what’s really important to you.

I think that’s what’s really happening here. The pandemic has reminded many of us of what really matters to us, of what actually makes us happy…or at least, it’s let us know that we weren’t really happy, and it’s set us on a road of rediscovery to find out what that is. It’s changed our priorities. We don’t want waste time on the hamster wheel anymore just trying to make a living. We don’t want to go back to the way things were before the pandemic. We want to be better. We want to be fulfilled. And we want to make a difference.

And for many of us, that means reinventing ourselves—including reprioritizing our schedules and finding new careers that are in line with what’s important to us.

There’s a lot more to say about this, and there’s not space in this blog to into all of it. For now, just know that if you’re one of those people who’ve been feeling this way…you’re not alone. Most importantly, you’re not wrong. There are ways for you to find rewarding work in this life that actually fulfills you. In the months ahead, we’re going to explore what that looks like.

As it turns out, being a career coach isn’t just about helping people find a job; it’s about helping them find the right work that fulfills them. If you’re on that journey, I’d love to help. To schedule a free 30-minute consultation, email me at, and let’s chat.