“A great retirement is when people say, ‘Whatever the situation, I want the best,'” Patresia Min Buckley told CNN Business. The 35-year-old Sydney woman made the decision to leave her job at EY consulting firm last August.
A December survey conducted by job site Indeed of about 1,000 workers in Singapore found that nearly half of respondents were unsure if they would stay in their current positions over the next six months. Nearly a quarter intended to leave their employer in the first half of this year. LinkedIn data for January showed a notable increase in the number of workers changing industries in Spain, the Netherlands and Italy compared to early 2021.
And in a study of workers commissioned by messaging firm Slack, which covers Australia, the UK, the US, Germany, Japan and France, openness to finding a new job has increased every quarter since June.
“It was this recalibration that happened for people as they rethought the role of work in their lives,” said Brian Elliott, senior vice president of Slack, who leads the Future Forum initiative. “They’re rethinking – not just in terms of things like compensation – but obviously things like flexibility, purpose, balance.”
Where is the wave?
There were a large number of people who wanted to leave their jobs, as in the initial period of the pandemic, people mostly stayed in their places. Reports of burnout were widespread. People were asking big questions about the purpose of life while sitting on big piles of savings. And there was potential for friction as those who worked remotely and now preferred flexibility were brought back to the office.
The theory was correct: In 2021, 47.8 million workers in the United States voluntarily quit their jobs, the highest since the Bureau of Labor Statistics began tracking full-year data in 2001. The number of quitters remained elevated in January and February this year.
“I wore too many hats for one person,” said Bobbie Conklin, who quit her job in Cintas’ purchasing and sales department last month. A 25-year-old girl from New Jersey said she was tired of working 10-12 hours a day and started a new job at an e-commerce company a few days later.
The factors identified by Klotz are not unique to the United States. But debate has flared up about whether the Great Retirement came to other job markets.
“We are seeing a Great Reshuffle, not a Great Retirement,” Josh Frydenberg, Treasurer of Australia, said in a speech last month.
“For the most part in Europe, people stayed with the employers they had,” said Guillaume Menuet, head of investment strategy and economics for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at Citi Private Bank.
But there were signs of a churn. In France, the number of resignations in the third quarter of 2021, according to the latest available data, was the highest on record since 2007.
And in the United Kingdom, the share of employed people aged 16 to 64 switching jobs between October and December reached a record high of 3.2%.
However, Tony Wilson, director of the Institute for Employment Research, dismisses claims that the Great Retirement has crossed the Atlantic as exaggerated, noting that the figure is only slightly higher than it was in the early 2000s.
Clearly, Americans are not the only ones who think differently about work.
Joan Pons Laplana, a 47-year-old resident of Sheffield, England, quit her job as a head nurse with the National Health Service almost a year ago. He now works as a teacher, teaching disadvantaged people so they can find work on the NHS.
Laplana said he felt guilty about leaving the profession he loved at a time when hospitals were facing a huge lack of resources. But when he was diagnosed with PTSD after working in intensive care during the first two waves of Covid, he knew the decision had to be made to preserve his mental health.
“The thought of your mortality — that you could be next — was very present,” he said. On top of that, he was often the only person to care for dying patients and communicate with their grieving families. “Day after day it showed.”
Thibaut Prat, a 28-year-old resident of Paris, France, has taken notice and is leaving his job buying and selling electricity in May after nearly five years on the job. He said he works long hours, especially since electricity prices have skyrocketed.
He was also frustrated at not producing anything in his job and didn’t want to plug numbers into Excel spreadsheets as society grappled with issues like the pandemic and the climate crisis.
“There was a growing gap between my beliefs and work that I could no longer live with,” he said.
Prat said he plans to take a few months off before looking for work in another part of the industry, such as nuclear.
Surveys of workers show that Prat is not alone in assessing his capabilities. A Future Forum report released in January showed that 53% of workers in France and 55% in Germany and Japan are ready to look for a new job next year. This number rises to 64% in Australia and 60% in the United Kingdom.
Changes on the horizon?
This willingness to look for new opportunities comes as vacancies remain high and employers in a number of industries are willing to pay more to hire workers. In the United Kingdom, which is also in the midst of Brexit-related labor market reform, there are now 4.4 vacancies for every 100 jobs, a record high.
“With such a big talent gap in the UK right now, people are pretty confident and ready to change jobs,” said Mark Cahill, managing director of UK and Ireland talent firm ManpowerGroup.
The Singapore Ministry of Manpower also said it was preparing for more resignations in the coming months.
“In sectors with lower paying jobs, people may leave because of better opportunities. In growth sectors where there is a high demand for labor, the rate of hiring and firing will be expected to be higher,” the agency said in January.
In Australia, the government has stated that workers who change jobs typically receive an 8% to 10% increase in wages.
Mariano Mamertino, senior economist for Europe, the Middle East and Africa at LinkedIn, said the labor market in Europe is also expected to strengthen this year, which could give more people the opportunity to change roles. About 58% of Europeans say they are considering changing jobs this year, according to a LinkedIn poll of about 9,000 workers, although it was completed before Russia invaded Ukraine, which economists warn could lead to a recession in the region.
“When the job market gets very crowded, there are more opportunities,” Mamertino said.
Ming Buckley, a Sydney worker who left EY — one of the Big Four accounting firms — said her mental health also played a big role in her decision to leave.
“I just started to feel like I was part of a bigger machine,” she said. “I never saw myself as someone who would race up the corporate ladder.”
She took a few months off and recently started doing interviews. This time, she is looking for a part-time job at a non-profit organization – something that is more in line with her values and will allow her to start a coaching and mentoring business. This is an epiphany that the pandemic has contributed to.
“I don’t think people woke up one day and were very dissatisfied with their work,” Min Buckley said. “I think it’s been built over years and years and years.”