Has the ‘Great Resignation’ actually happened in Australia? Let’s look at the evidence

The-Great-Resignation managers workers

Source: Unsplash/Laura Davidson.

Termed by US psychologist Anthony Klotz, the ‘Great Resignation’ has been picked up and carried, lantern-like all through the media. It’s most convenient in allaying reason and cause, a fait accompli, like it is out of our hands, almost like the pandemic itself. 

The essence of the ‘Great Resignation’ is that through pandemic epiphanies, there is a significant upswing of people quitting their jobs, whether exiting the workforce altogether, early retirement, sabbaticals, or just simply seeking a change. Have resignations been occurring in Australia? Sure, but to the magnitude it’s beefed up to be? 

Job vacancies are up

In the February 2022 quarter, job vacancies were 423,500, an increase of 6.7% from the previous quarter and 86% higher than in February 2020, just prior to the pandemic.

The main contributing factors for these vacancies are replacements/resignations, increased business workloads, and business expansion. 

Are resignations up or down?

In February 2020, 78.6% of the job vacancies were due to resignations, versus 79.7% in February 2022. A slight increase in percentage terms and an additional 195,800 resignations compared to February 2020. The abundance of job vacancies provides ample choice, extensive bargaining power and a sense of security for job seekers. 

However to put in context, this figure represents only 0.014% of our working population, and compares to the 4.5 million workers in the US, or nearly 3% of its total workforce. I’m not sure we can join America in the ‘Great Resignation’ stakes. 

The effects are great

Regardless, the effects of resignations are great and significant. This is especially so for Australia at present.

The loss of intellectual property, the downtime in recruiting and training etc., has always been a great cost. It’s now highly aggravated. And what if you can’t fill these positions? This is the real problem we face in Australia, our haunting reality. Filling any job vacancy is an extreme challenge. Think the job markets’ Everest. 

The conundrum

The issue of the resignations — whether they be ‘Great’ like in the US or simply at an increased level as in Australia’s case — is the constricted and severe talent shortage.

Overlay this against our current unemployment figure of 4% (near full employment), and the bar just etched up a notch.

It is a supply and demand equation. The reduced number of skilled workers with an abundance of vacancies provides ample choice and allows people to quit jobs with ease. It’s a lure from the COVID-19 cave. 

Resignations and replacements are a part of any employment landscape and in good times, regarded as healthy for business and the individual. But when the position cannot be easily filled and in a timely manner, the cost of the empty seat and the toll on businesses is significant. 

Is the pandemic to blame?

The shift in attitude to our jobs, work and life is evident. However, it’s been a long time coming and built over the years. We cannot give COVID-19 full credit for the changes afoot. Instead, COVID-19 gave us the green light to be more self-serving, and Omicron was the icing on the cake. Just as we emerged from Delta and the severe restrictions, Omicron entered, as if to say, ‘it’s not over yet’. 

The past decade increased our focus on emotional intelligence and raising one’s self, social and political awareness. Topics of inclusion, equality and mental health came into focus, introducing a different perspective on happiness, fulfillment, and our calling. It enabled us to recognise and understand the sources of discontent and dissatisfaction.

The result? People are seeking different types of work or careers, having choices over who to work for, where and even when they work. 

COVID-19 reduced the barriers and gave us permission to view the world through a different prism, with time to think and reflect, recognising the fragility of life and the limitations to guaranteed safety. But the skills shortage, giving power to employees and bringing forth more resignations, is not unique to the era of COVID-19. It was in place well before 2020. 

Even the sea change, coined as the ‘pandemic exodus’ was trending well before 2020. A report shows that between 2011 and 2016, young people were staying in regional areas or leaving capital cities. Now various reports show people wanting to return to the cities. According to UBS, in the US, the migration from cities ‘has largely ceased’, and urban occupancy is rebounding

All of this shows how quickly we shift, change, and adjust. Perhaps the ‘Great Resignation’ is simply the shift in the collective mind and change in attitude we have towards work and life. We don’t change or quit what we genuinely love. The antidote to the ‘Great Resignation’ is developing our ability to love what we do, which is a choice — the same as quitting.  

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