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What’s Really the Reason Behind ‘The Great Resignation’?

People changed jobs in record numbers in 2021, and 2022 is projected to bring more of the same. So what’s behind these trends? Let’s explore with the results of a new study from PlanBeyond. 

Illustration of employees on a conveyor belt leaving their jobs.
Question: What happens when you combine:
  • A multiyear, global pandemic,
  • With a mass move to working from home,
  • With a jump in inflation,
  • With a surge in digital transformation in global businesses,
  • With an increase in retirements,
  • With worker shortages,
  • With pent-up demands for change,
  • With other factors?
Answer: “The Great Resignation” of 2021.

Or, perhaps these are not the real reasons behind a record number of people quitting their jobs in the U.S. in the past year.

But let’s begin with some definitions. According to the BBC, “‘For talented individuals, in high-demand industries like tech, we’re seeing a lot of movement,’ says Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, and the originator of the term ‘Great Resignation.’ ‘People are finding jobs that give them the right pay, benefits and work arrangements in the longer term.’”

And almost anywhere you turn at the end of January 2022, there are media stories about the search for talent in the public and private sectors, along with articles about “The Great Resignation.” Consider this sample of stories from just two days this past week:

“Most Americans quitting their jobs merely seem to be aiming to get better jobs. While we are living in a bizarre pandemic economy with countless strange trends, this isn't necessarily one of them; it's pretty standard to see a swell of workers quitting their jobs for greener pastures when the job market is strong and there are lots of shiny opportunities available. When the stars align as they're aligning now, workers gun for better pay, perks, flexibility, and treatment. Bargaining power has shifted in their favor.”

“The current pandemic has caused many people to rethink their jobs and careers from minimum wage earners to highly skilled and highly compensated workers. For many low-wage earners, the decision to remain employed, look for a new job, or leave the workforce has mostly come down to money. At the other end of the spectrum, like the current housing market favoring sellers, high earners, comprised of skilled workers and professionals, now hold the upper hand with employers. While some may refer to the current job environment as the Great Resignation, especially at the high end of the market, it’s more appropriate to call this period The Great Talent Migration."

“The ‘Great Resignation’ was fueled partly by a desire to find happiness and work-life balance, but abruptly quitting a good job solely out of desperation can lead to problems you don’t see coming.”

“It’s hard to overstate the impact a proactive, insightful manager can have on a business — and its employees. At a time of unprecedented turnover, feeling connected to, respected by, and engaged with one’s manager is vital. Not to mention, recent research from analytics company Visier shows that highly effective managers drive 48% greater profits for their organizations than average managers.”

“A record 4.5 million Americans quit in November alone, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But the Great Resignation is hitting some states worse than others.

WalletHub looked at state resignation rates over the last 12 months based on numbers from the BLS to determine where people are quitting their jobs the most —and the least. Alaska and Wyoming topped the list of quit-heavy states while New York, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia saw the lowest quit rates among workers.”


This list of articles tells a wider story. I was amazed that all of these were released on Jan. 25 or Jan. 26 of 2022. Also released on Jan. 26 was this excellent report on the reasons behind The Great Resignation from PlanBeyond, a marketing research and strategy firm.

Included in this summary are charts used by permission which describe motivations and trends.

First, here is a helpful executive summary on the report:

“Featuring survey findings from over 1,000 U.S. full-time employees between the ages of 18-64, the study asked respondents about their plans to quit their jobs in the next six months as well as their attitudes toward other work-related issues including feelings about their managers and colleagues, compensation, and professional growth opportunities. Key survey insights include:
- The Great Resignation Is Not Over. 42% of employees are considering quitting in the next six months. While men and women are equally split, there is a greater tendency for employees ages 44 and younger to consider quitting.
- Appreciation Is a Powerful Retention Factor. The biggest force behind considering quitting was feeling unappreciated (21%). 
- Women Are Extremely Impacted By Poor Supervisors. While not a major factor for men, lack of respect or trust in their supervisor is the #1 influencer of women considering quitting their job. 
- Employees Want to Be Themselves at Work. A top factor behind employees thinking about quitting is not being able to be themselves on the job. Remarkably, this factor was especially pronounced among employees 35-44 (31%) and 45-54 (24%) years of age. 
- Compensation & Workplace Flexibility Are Not Attrition Factors. Neither workplace inflexibility nor disappointment with compensation were significant attrition drivers, a dynamic true across genders and ages. ‘What’s remarkable about these findings is that keeping employees still comes down to age-old interpersonal dynamics,’ said Laura Troyani, PlanBeyond’s Principal. ‘We hear issues like compensation or work-from-home dynamics pointed to time and time again as Great Recession culprits. Yet the data shows us that keeping employees still comes down to treating them well and showing them that they are appreciated. …’”


I am sure some readers are wondering whether there are unique aspects regarding technology and cybersecurity roles within The Great Resignation.

While this study did not cover that topic specifically, I have posted many related articles covering cybersecurity and attracting talent, including this recent article as well as this article from 2018 on the reasons behind the public- and private-sector pay divide.

And this Forbes article from last month describes how The Great Resignation could actually benefit the cybersecurity industry: “Cyber leaders should consider taking advantage of the fact that so many people are looking for a new career to bring more people into the field because we definitely need them.”

In conclusion, I know there will be readers who disagree with some of the findings from this PlanBeyond report. Many colleagues I have spoken with believe that working from home is now a “must have.”

Nevertheless, it behooves all of us to think long and hard about the questions and answers in this report.

Why? Because attracting and maintaining talent is still our No. 1 business issue today.
Daniel J. Lohrmann is an internationally recognized cybersecurity leader, technologist, keynote speaker and author.