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Work Viewed as Just One Component
of Collective Existential Crisis

For more than a year now, U.S. employers across every industry and business sector have been reeling from “the Great Resignation.”

Americans are leaving their jobs in droves. Forty-seven million left in 2021 alone, and the phenomenon does not appear to be slowing down. Every month another four million-plus American workers call it quits.

I Think, Therefore I Am

Economists and other business insiders now speculate that this mass exodus of workers is just one component of a much larger trend referred to as, “the Great Reflection.” That is, in light of the chaos and uncertainty people have witnessed over the past two years, many employees are questioning their career paths, decisions, and objectives.

On the Move

Recent geographic migration trends show shifts in American working populations from large urban centers (such as Chicago and San Francisco) to smaller towns, suburbs and rural areas.

In addition, the COVID pandemic spawned a wave of migration away from certain states and toward others.

Here are the biggest winners and losers:


  1. Texas
  2. Florida
  3. Arizona
  4. North Carolina
  5. Georgia


  1. New York
  2. Illinois
  3. California
  4. Michigan
  5. Pennsylvania

Source:  BankRate

The Great Reflection intertwines this reshuffling of jobholders with the bigger picture of our total human experience since the COVID pandemic began.

For many Americans, the COVID pandemic changed their purpose; they began to reimagine the possible in both their personal and work lives. And personal lives emerged as the number one priority for workers everywhere.

Work/Life Integration

Since March 2020, our collective culture has been continually bombarded by reminders of our mortality. Many American workers have wondered if their limited time would be better spent in either a higher-paying or more satisfying job. They seek work/life balance (more appropriately named work/life integration).

However, the Great Reflection is about more than employment concerns. People are also re-evaluating their relationships and lifestyles. (Jewelers are reporting double-digit increases in the sale of engagement rings.) Also, large waves of Americans are relocating from dense urban centers to suburban and rural areas.

Record numbers of these migrants have crossed state lines, particularly from the Northeast to the Sunbelt, as U.S. residents seek warmer climates, more affordable housing, and towns that are “better suited to a pandemic-era lifestyle,” according to Fortune magazine. (See sidebar, “On the Move.”)

In short, reflecting on their own mortality has not only caused many folks to reexamine their values; it has also motivated them to take action.

Employee Disengagement Is Showing

One significant result of the Great Reflection that employers are noticing: the staff members who stick around are not as engaged as they once were. A recent Gartner survey revealed that 65% of female employees say they are currently “rethinking the place work should have in my life.” Another 52% question the purpose of their everyday jobs. Many other respondents say they now have a different perspective on the ideal workplace and want to contribute more to society in general.

An October 2021 survey conducted by international IT solutions firm CGS concluded that “employers should not assume that those who’ve stayed are content.” Only one-third of the survey respondents believe their current jobs align with their career aspirations.

A 2022 random sampling by Gallup of almost 15,000 U.S. full- and part-time employees indicated that employee engagement is at its lowest point in 10 years. Only 32% of respondents consider themselves engaged with their work, and a full 17% consider themselves “actively disengaged.”

Quitting Quietly

This disengagement is manifesting in yet another trend referred to as, “quiet quitting.” Employees who quit quietly keep their jobs but mentally step back from the burdens of work. They may scale back to part-time status — or merely coast through the job, exerting the bare minimum of effort. Generally, they stop taking the job too seriously. (See the TikTok video above that recently went viral.)

Most quiet quitters can be found among the youngest workers, Generation Z, many of whom first joined the labor force during the pandemic. According to the Gallup researchers, more than half of survey respondents born after 1989 (that is, Gen Z and the youngest millennials) are not engaged with their work.

These employees are seeking a higher sense of purpose; they want their work to positively contribute to society. Failing that, they want workplace flexibility so they can pursue these higher goals on their own time. Until then, they’ll remain disengaged.

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How Should Employers Respond?

In response, employers need to offer their work teams more than competitive wages and benefit packages. They must create more human-centric workplaces that provide employees more control over their schedules, work environments, and job assignments.

Not Just an
American Trend

The Great Resignation is not exclusively an American phenomenon. Over the past year and a half, job resignations have also jumped across Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia. Major companies in Singapore, India, and Thailand have all recorded significant increases in turnover.

The trend is not likely to abate anytime soon.

A 2022 Price Waterhouse survey of more than 52,000 workers in 44 different countries found that one in five say they’ll probably switch employers within the next 12 months.

India is even more in flux, according to a 2022 McKinsey survey; 66% of workers there said they’d likely leave their jobs within the next three to six months.

Here are a few suggestions for getting started:

  • Instead of relying on company-wide (or industry-wide) surveys for feedback, drill down to the departmental level for this information. That’s where your workers are becoming disengaged. For example, what makes an accountant happy won’t necessarily satisfy a sales rep.
  • Practice continuous listening by asking team members more strategic questions more frequently. This promotes real-time feedback and allows you to address any disengagement issues before they become concrete problems.
  • Encourage internal movement. Sometimes the best way to rekindle purpose is to introduce a challenge. Inspire your employees to move out of their comfort zones and try something new.
  • Put people ahead of processes when it comes to decision-making. Leaders can become so process-oriented that they lose sight of the very people who are doing the actual work. Listen to your employees when they tell you the processes are inefficient or unpleasant. Then collaborate with them to find solutions.

The goal is to create more purpose-driven work that resonates with your employees, increasing employee satisfaction, making it easier for them to love their jobs. The ultimate result: heightened customer success, ensured brand loyalty, and increased bottom-line profit.

Everyone wins!

Featured image: Adobe, license granted
McKinsey and Co.