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Both Sides of the Great Resignation: Motif talks to both employees and business owners about the tight labor market

“The Great Resignation” is a phrase coined by Texas A+M professor Anthony Klotz in the spring of 2021 to describe the higher-than-normal quit rate in the American workforce. This has sent a ripple effect through the economy, dividing Americans over whether citizens have become empowered or lazy. Motif talked to some RIers on both sides of the employee-management divide. 

“We all keep hearing that people just do not want to work anymore,” says Jarrod Pimentel, who left his previous job of six months for one that was an upgrade in pay and responsibility. “That’s just not true. Folks are working, they might just not be where they were a year or two ago.”

“The pandemic has taught us that we shouldn’t need to grind all of the time,” says Nicole Gresko, who left her job in the cannabis industry because her work and the commute left her little time for activities that were important to her. “It can be akin to an unhealthy relationship.”

“The pandemic gave people a break from their routine and got them thinking about what they want in a job and where they’re at in their life,” says Kyle Mueller, an IT professional who left his job because the company didn’t follow through on some of its promises. “People learned to balance work, life and travel. People no longer see a 9-5 job as the central thing in their life: Things they’re passionate about have become the center, and the job is part of that instead of what life revolves around.”

“Jobs no longer define people,” Mueller concludes.

“I see it as an opportunity for workers to take back some power in their employee/employer relationship,” says Stephanie Samson, who left her job in the insurance industry to take a promotion at a competing agency that provided a more attractive team culture. “It’s been too one-sided for too long with executives and owners earning record profits and salaries on the hard work of their underpaid staff.”

“Even though I had job security, one of the reasons for my departure was my weekly schedule,” Gresko adds. “It became strenuous; it was difficult to retain quality personal time. I would start my day at 5:45 AM, get to work for my 7:00 AM shift, get out at 3:30 PM, and not make it home until 4:30 or later some days because of traffic. Staying active is very important to me, so when I would get home, I wouldn’t have any energy to do the things I love. Other reasons included … seeing how much free time my roommates had, while I was out working my butt off during the week and some weekends.” 

“I think after so many people were furloughed or laid off from their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, they saw how much more there is to life than trudging through the 9-5 to get the bills paid,” Sam Burgess says, who cited poor company culture for his recent transition. “Unemployment and weekly pandemic assistant bonuses showed us how much we could (should) be making, and once the furlough ended, we wanted to find opportunities with better pay and work-life balance.”

“Why would you stay at a job that leaves you with no time or energy to yourself? Do you really want to live this way?” Gresko asks.

According to data from the RI DLT, employment is increasing in RI, up 28,000 people from Dec 2020 to Dec 2021. Interestingly, 8,900 of those are accommodations and food service workers. While this sector has rebounded the most out of any sector, it still seems to be the sorest spot when it comes to retaining employees. 

“Adjusting to business with less staff was an automatic kind of response at first,” says Michael Maxon, owner of Crazy Burger Cafe & Juice Bar in Narragansett. “About half the staff left when COVID hit and we have lost roughly 40% of our sales. We haven’t been able to get the employees back. I haven’t tried to get the customers back: the biggest reason is not being able to handle the business without the employees.”

“You can never know whether a change is good or bad because it will affect everything that happens in the future,” Maxon says. “It’s a twisted path.”

The same idea was heard across industries. 

“In the construction industry, there has been a shortage of skilled workers,” says James Lepore of Lepore Construction. “It is a competitive market for those individuals who are highly experienced.”

“I don’t think it is necessarily a good trend,” says Lepore. “Rising wages are a good thing for the country, however, if we don’t get a handle on inflation I’m not sure anyone will see much benefit from it. I fear the instability we face could get worse before it gets better. 

“The Great Resignation, to me, is kind of a wake up call. I’m no expert, far from it, but in our industry, there are huge gaps that need to be filled. These are good paying jobs that could see some even greater increases in pay over the next few years. But I think there has been a stigma placed on these types of jobs. We need to change that.”

“For our business, we have changed with the times, instead of bringing all our employees back to the office, we allowed for a hybrid work model,” says Kay, an HR rep for a local organization she wished to keep unidentified. “This gives people more time at home and also provides that social interaction at the office for cross functional work to be completed.”  

“We have had some employees move on during this time, but it seems more like normal attrition,” Kay adds. “I am, however, concerned about small businesses and companies with hourly workers as it seems so many businesses are understaffed. Understaffed means fewer customers able to be served, which ultimately leads to less profit, which can affect a business’s ability to stay open. I truly hope we see a decline in resignations and an increase in people coming back to the workforce as the pandemic winds down.”

“People are reflecting on whether their current position aligns with their values and priorities and are looking for something better,” says Dr. Rachel Simmons, a psychologist at Lifespan Physician Group and Clinical Assistant Professor at Brown Medical School.

Dr. Simmons gives a clinical explanation for the change in thinking:

“Rates of stress, anxiety, depression, and alcohol and substance use have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people were already experiencing high levels of workplace burnout before the pandemic due to poor pay, inconsistent work schedules, long hours, little or no time off, and minimal support for child and elder care. With the pandemic, many employees reached their breaking point. Some have had to leave due to mental health issues, others due to child and family needs, and still others have just realized the benefits of their current job are no longer worth it.”

The Great Resignation could end up being a good thing for the American worker. There can now be a discussion about work-life balance and companies are revising what they offer to employees. People seem optimistic about the direction the American workforce is heading in.

“People are reflecting on whether their current position aligns with their values and priorities and are looking for something better,” Dr. Simmons adds. “This trend is a much needed correction for those workers who have been undervalued and underpaid.”

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