The­o­ries abound about why work­ers are leav­ing their jobs in record num­bers in 2021 and thus cre­at­ing what pun­dits are call­ing the Great Res­ig­na­tion. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics report­ed that 4.3 mil­lion Amer­i­cans quit their jobs in August. These res­ig­na­tions con­tin­ue to be high­er in food ser­vice, retail, and education.

One pop­u­lar opin­ion was that peo­ple quit unex­pect­ed­ly and did not look for a new job because of the gen­er­ous unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits insti­tut­ed dur­ing the pan­dem­ic. The claim was that the job mar­ket would return back to nor­mal once those ben­e­fits were phased out.

Even though the ben­e­fits end­ed over Labor Day week­end, there has been no sig­nif­i­cant recov­ery in employ­ment. Twen­ty states actu­al­ly stopped the ben­e­fits over the sum­mer and have seen no improve­ment since then either.

So what’s real­ly behind this trend? Accord­ing to econ­o­mists and labor mar­ket experts, Amer­i­can work­ers are soul-searching.The Great Res­ig­na­tion is a philo­soph­i­cal reset of work expectations.

What Workers Really Want

Heather Long, an eco­nom­ics cor­re­spon­dent from the Wash­ing­ton Post, spoke with CBS News recent­ly to dis­cuss her report­ing on the Great Resignation.

She said some work­ers are still con­cerned about COVID-19, yet that fear may be wan­ing with the increase of vac­ci­na­tions cou­pled with decreased infec­tions. Many oth­ers sim­ply want to change what they’re doing with their lives.

Low­er wage work­ers are protest­ing over sub­stan­dard pay and harsh work con­di­tions, but even mid-lev­el work­ers who earned high­er salaries and bet­ter ben­e­fits are leav­ing to open their own busi­ness­es or pur­sue their passions.

Long said that the two biggest pri­or­i­ties for Amer­i­cans are find­ing some­thing dif­fer­ent or more ful­fill­ing, and work­ing for an employ­er that val­ues both men­tal health and work-life balance.

What does this mean for companies?

Offer­ing high­er salaries to job can­di­dates may seem like an obvi­ous fix to the prob­lem, but be pre­pared for the nee­dle to bare­ly move as a result. And it’s clear from the last few months that unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits weren’t hold­ing work­ers back either.

“The ear­ly evi­dence cer­tain­ly sug­gests that the unem­ploy­ment ben­e­fits were not the main rea­son hold­ing peo­ple back from going and seek­ing work again,” said Long.

Instead, the Great Res­ig­na­tion has proven to be more about per­son­al val­ues and less about economics.

The Great Reassessment of Work in America

In her inter­view, Long described what’s hap­pen­ing as a” great reassess­ment of work in Amer­i­ca,” and one of the “biggest shake­ups of the labor mar­ket since World War II.”

It takes a sig­nif­i­cant or trau­mat­ic event like a pan­dem­ic or world war to get peo­ple ques­tion­ing their lives and how work fits into it. So much about the work­force changed in the mid-1900s. Amer­i­cans were still reel­ing from The Great Depres­sion only a few years before the war that caused unem­ploy­ment rates to sky­rock­et to 25%.

The start of the war actu­al­ly got things mov­ing again. Fac­to­ries were estab­lished to pro­duce weapons and sup­plies. More Amer­i­cans, includ­ing women who were pre­vi­ous­ly expect­ed to be stay-at-home wives and moth­ers, went to work to sup­port the effort. A major­i­ty of the work­force became per­ma­nent­ly indus­tri­al­ized in that decade.

The Amer­i­can work­force was nev­er the same after World War II, and many experts are point­ing to a sim­i­lar shift today in 2021.

Advice for HR Professionals and Companies

Know­ing the root caus­es of “The Great Res­ig­na­tion” will help HR depart­ments and com­pa­nies tru­ly solve this labor cri­sis. Mon­ey is impor­tant. Every­one needs to pay their bills, and it would be nice to have a few extra dol­lars to take an extra vaca­tion or buy a more expen­sive car. But don’t make the mis­take of think­ing it’s all salary that will bring back workers.

Even if some employ­ees return for a high­er salary, it will only keep them engaged in the short-term. When they even­tu­al­ly quit again because of burnout, com­pa­nies will be back to square one.

Younger work­ers from the Mil­len­ni­al and Gen‑Z gen­er­a­tions are lead­ing this trend. Besides the mon­ey, they want to feel safe and well-com­pen­sat­ed. They want to be treat­ed with decen­cy by employ­ers, who care about their men­tal health and per­son­al downtime.

by Mcken­zie Cassidy

Orig­i­nal­ly post­ed on HR Exchange Network