What's Tony Thinking

The Great Resignation


There was a segment on the PBS Newshour last evening (October 8) that we found especially interesting. The title was, “The Great Resignation.” It was reported by my personal favorite at the Newshour, Paul Solomon. This guy makes economics stories interesting by showing us the human face of such news.

So what is “The Great Resignation”? In the first seven months of 2021 more than 25 million people have quit their jobs. Leading the way were millennials, people in their mid-twenties to early forties.

We’ve been wondering for a long time now what the effects of the pandemic are or would prove to be. Well, here’s one. A lot of folks did a “professional reassessment” during, and in some cases, because of the pandemic. They concluded during this time of flux and duress, “I don’t want this life-style as it is. I want to change it.” And they are.

“Lousy employee treatment for lousy pay,” was how Solomon summed up the jobs that many had left. A pronounced theme of the interviews in the nine minute segment was that employers and companies “don’t care.” They don’t care about employee safety. They don’t care about the needs of an employee’s family. They don’t care about creating a career pathway and advancement for employees.

We have had maybe four decades of employers being in the driver’s seat. Unions were busted. Low-paying jobs without benefits became a norm. Employers often asked for more productivity, i.e. more work, without reciprocating by sharing profits.

Now, the situation seems to have flipped. Post-pandemic shut-downs, many employers are having a hard time filling positions, even with several increases in pay.

“The pandemic,” said one employee, “accelerated or accentuated all the feelings I’d had about work/life balance.” When pushed, yet again, to get on zoom for an impromptu meeting, and then getting hassled by his employer because his kids were in the background he said, “I’m done.”

There’s a certain parallel to this in the world of ministry. Sometime in the 90’s a lot of mainline clergy started getting sabbaticals. This was driven, in large part by a generous program of the Lilly Endowment for Religion, providing funding for sabbaticals. While most church’s sabbatical provisions required that a minister return for at least a year after the sabbatical leave (typically three months), a pattern began to emerge. Those who had a sabbatical were much more likely to leave their position within one to three years.

The sabbatical had provided a time away for assessment. It had also provided something, for at least some clergy, like a break from hitting your head against the wall and noticing — surprise! — that the headaches were gone. “Let’s see . . . do I want to go back?”

It seems that for millions the pandemic functioned something like this. While some got an extended break from work, most didn’t. Many, like nurses, worked even harder under tougher conditions. But still people were in this time re-thinking, re-assessing and considering making a change. Another of the themes in Solomon’s story, a heartening one, is agency. Instead of people thinking they just had to accept “lousy treatment and lousy pay,” they are concluding “I want a change,” looking for it and finding it.

These themes were consistent: the desire for meaningful work, a chance to advance, employers/ companies that care and provide some security, a better work/ life balance. Otherwise, in the words of the song, “you can take this job and shove it.”

Solomon summed up the situation faced by employers: “a labor force that no longer accepts business as usual.”

So, we’ve been asking, what would be the effects of the pandemic? Now, we’re getting some answers: reassessment, re-thinking, making changes, taking chances. I suspect such trends will surface in many ways and sectors of life as more people are reluctant, post-pandemic, to accept “business as usual.”

While the PBS report didn’t touch on church-world, I suspect that many churches and church leaders would be wise to know that people are reassessing. It might be time for churches to up their game, not just for their employees, but for all the people they are trying, or say they are trying, to reach. Same old/ same old may not cut it.


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