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The Great Resignation Has Changed the Workplace for Good. ‘We're Not Going Back,' Says the Expert Who Coined the Term

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There's no turning back from the workplace changes brought about by the Great Resignation, according to the expert who coined the term.

Organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz predicted in May 2021 that the Covid-19 pandemic would lead to pent-up resignations. Since that time, millions of Americans have quit their jobs; a record 4.5 million workers walked away in March alone.

The initial surge was due to the backlog of resignations since workers weren't quitting during the height of the pandemic, he explained. They also were burned out, unhappy and reevaluating their lives.

Many employers have adapted to meet workers' needs, albeit slowly in some cases. They are now addressing employee wellness, including mental and financial health, and are offering remote work opportunities.

"The pandemic brought the future of work into the present of work," said Klotz, a management professor at Texas A&M University's Mays Business School.

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The move to remote work and changes in job flexibility may not have occurred for another 30 years if not for the crisis, he explained.

While shutdowns meant a quick move to working from home, many employees aren't returning to the office full time, if at all, as restrictions are relaxed. Others can work from anywhere in the world or just four days a week. Some even have secured flexibility around the hours they work.

"We are not going back to the world of work in 2019," Klotz said.

"Because these work arrangements give us more flexibility and control over our lives, and more autonomy and freedom in how we structure our lives, I don't think most people are willing to go back to a traditional work environment," he said.

"The new changes are here to stay," Klotz added.

To be sure, flexibility and wellness are key for workers these days. Some 63% of job seekers called work-life balance a top priority when picking a new job, according to LinkedIn's 2022 Global Talent Trends report.

Compensation and workplace culture also matter. Low pay, a lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected were the top reasons why U.S. workers said "I quit" in 2021, according to a survey from Pew Research Center.

Those who walked away and are now employed elsewhere are more likely to have better pay, improved work-life balance and flexibility and more opportunities for advancement at their new job, the survey found.

People also opted to retire instead of looking for new work, while others became their own bosses and started businesses. In fact, there was a surge in new business formation last year, with applications hitting 5.4 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

That's why Klotz is sticking with the phrase Great Resignation instead of the "Great Reshuffle" or the "Great Reset." "The other terms highlight how people are experiencing this differently, but only capture a part of it," he said.

The Great Resignation, on the other hand, covers the variety of reasons people are quitting, Klotz said.

He expects it to continue since the labor market is still tight and many of the psychological drivers of the movement are still present.

"Workers from the C-suite to the front line are still feeling a bit in flux as the exit to the pandemic drags on and on," said Klotz, who noted that many companies are still experimenting with work arrangements.

However, those managers who have shifted their focus back to the evolving demands of their employees are seeing a lower turnover rate, he pointed out.

"We're entering into a period of time in which much of the resignation activity we're seeing is comprised of employees moving toward companies that have made this shift, that have embraced the future of work rather than resisted it," Klotz said

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