The Great Resignation: Take this Job and Shove it!
In recent months with global supply chains groaning at the seams, we have come to appreciate many things that we have previously taken for granted. Once readily available but now many goods and services have become the cause for careful consideration for businesses and customers alike.
However, the pandemic has shined a light on another important aspect in the mix; the role of the labour force in the global economy.
For some, the crunch became apparent through significant pinch points, such as the fuel shortage in the UK in Autumn 2021. This was brought about by several factors including an element of panic buying by the general public (fed by over-hyped media coverage no doubt) but also in large part due to a chronic shortage of heavy goods vehicle (or HGV) drivers in the UK. The majority of the UK’s fuel distribution network relies on the delivery of fuel to petrol stations via HGVs. Overall, it was estimated that the logistics sector was suffering from a shortfall of some 20,000 HGV drivers. This shortage combined with an element of panic buying brought to bear a short-term fuel crisis.
An amusing aside to the shortages came to bear in our local Waitrose where a patron upon noticing the empty shelves of duck parfait bemoaned that Waitrose had “gone to the dogs!”. #FirstWorldProblems.
Duck parfait apart, it became clear that the labour shortages were being felt across the global economy. However, an interesting trend has emerged: mass resignations. This has been dubbed “The Great Resignation”.
In the US for example, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, some 2.9% of the US workforce have quit their jobs in recent months. To put that into context, that is approximately 4.2 million a month for each month between August and October 2021.
This has led some economists, such as Laurance Katz to coin this as “a once-in-a-generation ‘take this job and shove it’ moment”. Suddenly, the tables have turned slightly in favour of employees.
This phenomenon is being felt across the board, beyond the logistics sector. CEOs in diverse industries are looking carefully at retention rates. Based on my own corner of the economy, this issue has also been felt in the legal sector. In many ways, it is natural that during the pandemic, we have all been through a tumultuous period. People (of whom it is said, on occasion, includes lawyers) have been juggling remote working, remote schooling, family responsibilities and general anxiety of the pandemic; all from the confines of their kitchen tables, spare bedrooms, lofts and basements.
Taking a step back from the Great Resignation, it is important to consider the pressures of many in the workforce. In 2020, some 80% of US workers reported being in “time poverty”: having too much to do with too little time. This issue has been a long time in the making. Looking further back, a 2014 Gallop Poll revealed US workers clocked up an average of 47 hours work a week: with 18% of those surveyed working over 60 hours a week.
Against the historical backdrop of long working hours and demanding jobs in certain sectors, the added pressures and uncertainty of working in a pandemic have led to another issue: burnout. This has changed how many people think about life, work and that elusive mirage of work-life balance.
From my own experiences, I have witnessed the toxic excesses of work in the legal sector. It is a profession that requires long hours, late evenings, working on weekends, public holidays and during annual leave. We are all permanently “on-call’’. Even when on leave, there is an expectation that lawyers should check their emails daily. During a brief dalliance at a US law firm, I was told by a partner that the firm expected me, while on leave, to keep on top of all my emails and current workload, and join conference calls as needed. What a great holiday! He relented, noting that only if any “heavy drafting” was needed could I hand it over to a colleague. The divide between work and private life was so blurred it ceased to exist in some instances. My experiences are by no means uncommon.
While I am sure some readers will have the reaction of Mr Pink in Reservoir Dogs that the "The World’s smallest violin playing just for…[me]”; admittedly the long hours are an occupational hazard, but I hope that most people would acknowledge that it is not a healthy work-life balance.
The situation is no better in the UK. A recent survey of 6,000 workers by Randstad UK found that 24% of them planning to change jobs within the next three to six months. This is compared to the historical average of about 11% of works survey having such plans to quit.
This is backed up by The Office for National Statistics in the UK which in November 2021 released its UK Labour Force Survey (LFS). The survey showed that resignations and job-to-job moves in the UK are at their highest levels in 20 years. For the UK, this translates to 1.02 million people changing jobs between July and September 2021. This included over 391,000 resignations, the highest ever recorded by the LFS. Although it is interesting to note that the survey also found that nearly 60% of those people who changed jobs did so to move within the same industry. So, most quitters are not sacking it all off to travel the world, work on a beach in the Balearics or jump into a start-up.
But, on balance, with the first green shoots of economic recovery over the summer, the recruitment market has really taken off in the legal sector. It has become a candidate’s market, with employers and recruiters scrambling to secure candidates. This is in part to deal with the uptick in legal work but also due to underinvestment in the depth of their bench of lawyers. Many teams have been overstretched during the pandemic. As parts of the economy recover, demand for deals and advisors has soared. We have seen a notable increase in corporate, real estate, energy and litigious deal flows.
In my team, our efforts to recruit a junior corporate lawyer have been stifled by intense competition for candidates. We made offers to three candidates which were all turned down, either for better offers from bigger firms or due to changes in personal circumstances of the candidates. Good candidates are in hot demand and short supply. Our search continues…
So until then, if any of you have the urge to tell your boss to “Take this job and shove it!”, at least you know you will be in good company.