The ‘Great Resignation’ and Generational Differences in the Workplace: How Employees of Every Age Are Responding to Changing Times

by Anastasia C. Valentine on November 3, 2021


different generations working


During the first five months of 2021, almost 17 million private sector workers quit their jobs, at an average rate of about 3.4 million quits per month. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a record high of 4 million Americans left their jobs in April, and the trend has only continued. These numbers are especially concerning when compared to the average quit rate from January 2001 to December 2020, an approximate 2.5 million quits per month.

According to a recent survey and report, the U.S. Job Market Report: Q3 2021 by Joblist, this trend is not likely to slow down anytime soon, with 73% of currently employed workers actively thinking about leaving their job. More than a quarter also said they would be comfortable leaving their current role without a new one lined up. But what is driving this massive exodus?

Why Employees Are Resigning at Record Rates

There are several reasons people are leaving their jobs in 2021, creating a phenomenon which has since been deemed the ‘Great Resignation’. For some, life in lockdown during the pandemic gave them an opportunity to reevaluate their career, current job, and the importance of work alongside other personal goals and ambitions. As a result, a large number of workers came to the conclusion that they were not satisfied in their job or career. For these employees, resigning to pursue new opportunities was the natural next step, especially as demand for workers continues to increase.

Other employees cited burnout, poor transitions from in-person to remote work, and uncertainty around future work models. The constant changes left many people feeling disconnected from colleagues and struggling to keep up with shifting workplace policies and expectations. Lack of compensation, diminished motivation, struggles with work-life balance, and questions around the resilience of companies in the face of so many challenges also contributed to the increase in resignations.

However, the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic cannot be overlooked. Some employees expressed concern about their health and the well-being of their families if forced to return to offices. Others noted their responsibility to care for older family members at risk or young children unable to return to schools and daycares. Women, minorities, service and essential workers have been especially impacted because the burden of care often falls on their shoulders. When jobs prevented them from caring for their family or put them at higher risk of catching COVID, these workers were forced to make difficult decisions and many left jobs as a result.

The Generational Divide

While everyone has their own reasons for walking away from work, we wanted to know which working-age generation, Baby Boomers, Gen X, Millennials, or Gen Z, is leading the way. That is why, building off of our piece, Baby Boomers, Generation ‘X’ and Generation ‘Y’ in the Workplace: A Melting Pot of Expertise, we are releasing a series of articles detailing how each generation is responding to The Great Resignation.

Every generation is uniquely shaped by major historical events and moments of cultural significance in their formative years. As a result, each group carries a unique mindset towards work framed by their experiences. We will examine common attitudes and ideas as we explore each generation’s reaction to work in these changing times.

Check back soon for our look at Generation Z, the events that have shaped their world views, and how they are reshaping the future of work.

Looking for help navigating the ‘Great Resignation’ and hiring top talent for your team? Reach out to Resource 1.