Americans continue to quit their jobs and make career changes at a record pace, revealing a paradigm shift in workers’ dynamic with the labor market that experts say could be here to stay.

More than 30 million people have quit their job since March of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The en masse trend of labor turnover amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, now known as “The Great Resignation,” is the result of re-examining the role of work in one’s life, University of Oklahoma graduate and organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz told CNBC earlier this month.

Klotz, who gave the labor movement its name, said the pandemic has reshaped the way many think about how, where and why they work.

Mark Bolino, PhD and professor of management at OU, said workers are using leverage from a tight job market to renegotiate the terms of the employment contract.

Despite having the country’s third-lowest unemployment rate at 2.3%, Oklahoma is no exception to The Great Resignation. From April through November, the state saw an average monthly quit rate, the number of quits during the entire month as a percentage of total employment, of 3.3%, according to BLS data.

Oklahoma is simultaneously experiencing a nine-month period of available jobs exceeding 100,000, which averages out to about 2.5 available jobs per unemployed Oklahoman.

Bolino said the high quit rates seen nationally and statewide last year are not due to a single factor, and there may not be a quick solution.

“It’s certainly a challenging time for a lot of employers to find workers,” Bolino said.

Lauren Lewis began working from home in March 2020 for her job at the University of Oklahoma. Prior to the start of the fall 2021 semester, Lewis applied for a hybrid work plan that would allow her to pick up her third grade son from Le Monde International School on Main Street in the afternoon.

“There were no after school options available — not at the school, church or the community after school program. Everyone was full,” Lewis said. “So I tried to work out a remote work plan with my supervisor where I could leave, pick up my son, bring him home and finish out my last hour-and-a-half working there.”

Lewis’ proposal was rejected at the provost level. She said her only option was to take a voluntary reduction in hours from full time, down to 32 hours per week, a 20% pay cut.

Lewis began seeking other employment that would allow her to pick up her son from school and better take care of matters brought on by the pandemic. She was offered a job by another university department with an established remote work plan.

“There are still some on-campus requirements, but it’s not five days, 40 hours per week,” Lewis said.

The option to work from home has become the most highly valued benefit during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Work From Home Research Project, a national survey of more than 17,000 respondents, re-weighted to match the U.S. population, shows many value workplace flexibility as much as a 10% pay increase, particularly those in the technology and finance industries.

Bettye Taylor, regional director for Express Personnel, said she is seeing a large number of people who have decided to make a career change in the last year. Among the most popular reasons for making a change include desire for increased wages, a better work/life balance and health concerns for oneself and their family.

“I think a lot of people also are leaving for equivalent money or lesser money if they can gain from that flexibility, they’re just trying to destress their life between 8 a.m to 5 p.m,” Taylor said.

With fluctuations of in-person and at-home instruction in schools and a lack of available daycare options for many, Taylor said a significant portion of the workforce is making the decision to work remotely or somewhere that allows more flexibility than the traditional schedule pre-pandemic.

From advertising to education, Taylor said virtually every industry has been affected by The Great Resignation.

“Everybody’s feeling it,” Taylor said. “No industry is immune from having to get creative and pivot on how they’re going to increase or even maintain their workforce.”

Taylor said she has seen an uptick in willingness from employers to raise salaries as workers look for higher compensation, such as manufacturing jobs that previously paid $11 per hour but now pay $14 per hour.

“I think companies are becoming more understanding that there’s two options: either continue the cycle of hiring and losing due to not paying enough or increase salaries,” she said. “In the long term, you’re going to come out ahead, but it hurts to have to raise your salaries initially.”

Bolino said larger companies can more easily afford these types of raises, but it remains unclear whether small and local Norman businesses can compete with companies like Target, who offer competitive industry wages and college tuition assistance.

“Those are the types of things that local businesses will have a harder time matching,” Bolino said.

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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