A record 4.3 million Americans voluntarily quit their jobs in August according to the latest data from the US Department of Labor.
Approximately 4 million people per month have been leaving their jobs since the spring, as part of a trend that has become known as the Great Resignation.
It is a sign that workers believe they have leverage in a jobs market defined by labour shortages, as the economy rebalances in what is hoped to be the tapering off of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Wages are rising quickly as businesses struggle to hire staff and many companies are adding signing bonuses and reviewing benefits packages in the hope of attracting new employees and retaining existing talent.
The number of people resigning is particularly high in the leisure and hospitality sector, but people are quitting their jobs across a whole range of industries, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports.
Professional and business services, healthcare and social assistance, and retail all saw huge numbers of resignations in August.
According to the monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary (Jolts) report, there were 10.4 million job openings at the end of August – down from July’s figure but still near a record high.
The number of unemployed workers per job opening crept up slightly over the month, but there are still more jobs out there than workers available to fill them.
New hires also fell, but unlike openings, the number has been slow to rebound, sticking only slightly above pre-pandemic levels.
The pandemic offered many people an opportunity to take stock of their working lives as they were either forced to work from home, their job disappeared or they were furloughed, or they suddenly found themselves under huge pressure, performing essential functions in difficult circumstances.
Whichever was applicable, traditional working norms have been upended across the board, allowing people to re-evaluate what they want to get out of their jobs, and what matters most to them.
As the US has emerged from the worst of the pandemic, the term “Great Resignation” has caught on, coined by Professor Anthony Klotz, associate professor of management at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University.
Mr Klotz told The Independent that people who had hung on to jobs during the pandemic because of the uncertainty were now ready to make a move and leave their current job in favour of something better.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that there were 6 million fewer resignations in 2020 than in 2019, so there was already a natural backlog of people who would have resigned under normal circumstances.
The “something better” people are looking for could be one or more of a variety of factors. These include: the freedom to work remotely, eliminating the need to commute; flexible working hours to accommodate a better work-life balance; better remuneration or benefits; improved opportunities for advancement; or a safer or more equitable working environment.
At all levels of employment, people are asking how much their job contributes to their happiness and wellbeing, and whether their work is meaningful. For many, a job is no longer just about getting paid, but about quality of life.
Consequently, companies that do not invest in their workforce and its wellbeing look likely to struggle for the foreseeable future.