Is the Pandemic the Cause of "The Great Resignation?"

If you’ve checked the news recently, you’ve likely heard about “The Great Resignation.” In video clips news cameras pan both small towns and big cities, showcasing “Help Wanted” signs in the windows. Reporters talk to owners and CEOs about unfilled positions affecting their businesses and their bottom lines, blaming the COVID pandemic for the lack of workers. But the reality is that people started quitting their jobs in great numbers long before we became accustomed to wearing masks, social distancing, and working from home.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported that in August of 2021, 4.3 million workers, or 2.9% of the workforce, resigned (Skopovi et. al., 2021). While that is one of the highest numbers of employees leaving jobs in a single month ever recorded by The Bureau, in August of 2019, pre-pandemic, almost 4.5 million workers, or 3% of the workforce, quit their jobs (BOLS, 2021). The Great Resignation is not a pandemic problem; it’s a workplace culture problem that started many years ago thanks to renewed collective self-reflection and mindfulness about how we work.

The pandemic has certainly exacerbated problems within workplace cultures, but it didn’t create them. It has also given people pause to think about what they really want in a workplace, as well as other areas of life, but workers have been considering their options for some time. The difference now is that, with the losses of the pandemic, many employers can no longer ignore the costs of negative workplace cultures.

A recent Gallup poll showed that 48% of the employed population are unhappy, disengaged and looking for jobs elsewhere (Gandhi & Robison, 2021). While disengagement costs an employer approximately 18% of an employee’s annual salary, replacing an employee who quits costs approximately one-half to double that employee’s salary (Gandhi & Robison, 2021). Many pandemic obstacles, such as supply chain issues, can’t be controlled internally, but what can be controlled is workplace culture.

What’s more, investing in a healthy, positive workplace culture pays for itself over time. A recent study showed that organizations who actively engaged in a workplace culture program improved attendance, had fewer accidents, had higher retention rates and earned on average a 21% increase in profitability (Harter, 2021). Additionally, the organizations who actively engaged with employees and supported a healthy workplace culture earned four times the earnings per share than their competitors (Harter, 2021).

There is no doubt that the pandemic has affected the way we work and how we feel about our workplaces. But the statistics show that many workers were dissatisfied even before COVID changed the way we work and how we do business. The pandemic just accelerated the phenomenon and made problems with workplace culture too big, and too costly, to ignore.

However, the chaos of the pandemic affords organizations the opportunity to become a more competitive, more profitable, and more attractive place to work. The differences in positive and negative workplace cultures have never been clearer. Employees are flocking to organizations that do workplace culture well and leaving those that don’t. By investing in positive, productive workplace cultures, organizations have the opportunity to turn the “The Great Resignation” into “The Great Retention.”


Gandhi, V., & Robison, J. (2021, October). The 'great resignation' is really the 'great discontent'.

Harter, J. (2021, October). Employee engagement on the rise in the U.S. Retrieved from

Skopovi, S., Calhoun, P., & Akinyooye, L. (2021, October). Labor patterns across the United States in 2020. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BOLS). (2021, October 12). Job openings and Labor turnover summary. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved from

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