IN EARLY MAY, Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, did an interview with Bloomberg about a possible spike in job turnover. “The Great Resignation is coming,” he warned. A few weeks later, the Bureau of Labor Statistics confirmed a record 4 million Americans had left their jobs in April. Suddenly, people were reaching for ways to refer to the phenomenon unfolding before them—to brand it, to make sense of it. Klotz’s catchy off-the-cuff terminology, now printed on Bloomberg’s pages, seemed to fit the bill. And just like that, a name was born.
We are in a moment of pervasive change across American life, and in turn there are many new things we must now put into words. One of these has been a radical shift in Americans’ relationship with work. Spanning industries and income levels, people are, as Klotz predicted, leaving their jobs in unprecedented numbers. They are changing employers, “downshifting” on the career ladder, or taking time away from the workforce altogether. With new clarity and savings from the Covid era, some workers have stepped back from precarious frontline jobs made brutally hard in the pandemic. Others report forgoing opportunities for money or status in exchange for greater flexibility and self-determination. Collectively, this reckoning has gained momentum under different titles: the Big Quit, the Great Reshuffle, among others. But the Great Resignation has gained consensus as the clear winner.