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The Great Resignation or The Next Great Migration?

Talk radio this morning shared a Fast Company headline that Public schools are facing an existential Great Resignation of teachers. The National Education Association (NEA), released a new poll conducted to gauge the amount of stress on members today and it showed that 55% of teachers now say they’re going to leave the profession sooner than they’d planned. That percentage was only 37% last year. The latest employment figures indicate that even more Americans have resigned, adding fuel to the fires of what many of us have dubbed the Great Resignation.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the United States, 4 million Americans resigned in July 2021. Resignations spiked in April last year and have stayed unusually high for many months, with 10.9 million available positions at the end of July, setting a new record.

The Great Resignation is an informal term for the worldwide phenomenon of a large number of people quitting their employment in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak. It has also been coined the Big Quit.

For years, I’ve been fascinated with the population shift, the migration, in the United States, from California and New York, into the central corridor of the county; well-known given the boom of attention on Texas as companies and venture capitalists follow the talent and economics of this region of the country. And while the Great Resignation is often addressed as a U.S. workforce shift, we’re seeing an awaking of people throughout the world, to the fact that they could live and work under better circumstances.

And that’s when Decypt’s news of YouTube’s Head of Gaming leaving to Join Polygon Studios really coalesced in my brain the fact that despite all of that has plagued, us as we start this decade of the 20s, what’s roaring forward is the fact that people aren’t resigning, they’re rethinking.

Two key trends have been revealed during the Great Resignation:

  1. Healthcare and tech industries have the highest resignations

Resignations in the healthcare industry grew by 3.6% compared to 2020, while those in the technology sector rose by 4.5%. We observed that resignation rates are significantly higher among workers who worked in sectors that had seen a dramatic increase in demand as a result of the pandemic, which likely led to an increase in workloads and burnout.

  1. Employees between 30-45 years old have high resignation rates

Those in their mid-career have an average increase in resignation rates of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. It’s plausible that the change to remote work has made firms believe that employing somebody with less experience is riskier than normal since new hires will lack access to in-person training and supervision. This might have led to an increased demand for mid-career individuals, providing them more bargaining power when it comes to getting new roles.

Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor at Texas A&M University, came up with the term The Great Resignation. And he mentioned to CNBC Make It that “It’s not just about getting another job, or leaving the workforce, it’s about taking control of your work and personal life and making a big decision – resigning – to accomplish that.” He also explains that this is actually a moment of empowerment for workers. Whether the consequence of employee discontent with present working circumstances, personal reassessments of professional and lifestyle choices, realizing the impact of the internet and how we can work from anywhere, or response to the pandemic’s changes and challenges, what’s evident is at least that people are changing.

What’s exciting is that while we can explore the negative causes, we can also explore the social changes end emerging capabilities that are rewarding people for making a change.

The Promise of the Gig Economy

The Great Resignation has everyone socializing the circumstances… debating the cause, exploring how employers might emerge victoriously, and wrestling over how individuals will thrive after losing their employment.

The gig economy comprises a variety of employment opportunities. It has been linked with platforms such as Uber and Lyft in recent years, but it also refers to more general freelance or project-based employment – though these, too, are becoming more apparent on online hubs. In as much as our work is in Media, it’s evident through our community and economy, that the gig economy is far more than what people perceive in the recent spate of gig jobs – “Gig” iterates from the gigs that musicians land and the very notion of a gig economy draws from the form of work with which the media industry has long been familiar.

Focused on temporary, contract-based, or freelance work that often is an engagement, part-time, or a project, the gig economy is increasingly flourishing since communicating with clients or consumers, fans, and investors, is done online, enables work on our time and place.

The gig economy style of work helps employees, firms, and consumers by increasing the adaptability of employment to changing requirements and the need for flexible lifestyles.

The gig economy doesn’t come without consequences. Even if employees love the freedom from this work type, employers must also protect their workers from insecurity and overwork while people continue to struggle with benefits and consistency.

The Rise of the Creative Class

As gig work flourishes, we can appreciate how people are finding the time, flexibility, and balance to enjoy much of what is lost in a life of 9 to 5, in-office employment. People are rediscovering their creative roots (certainly in part too, thanks to being at home during the quarantines of 2020-2022) and it’s in this shift, that I think we’re not witnessing a Great Resignation merely as people get fed up with work; rather, the next Great Migration from how society used to work, to how people would prefer to live and work.

Richard Florida, a professor at the University of Toronto’s School of Cities and Rotman School of Management, used the term “creative class” to describe a new way of conceptualizing the engines of economic development. The creative class is those who prefer to live in places with cultural amenities and favorable environment surrounding including mixed populations.

Parag Agrawal, CEO of Twitter, this week, “Wherever you feel most productive and creative is where you will work and that includes WFH full-time forever.”

The class is comprised of workers, technologists, and cultural creators is a critical factor in the economic development of cities in America. Over 55 million employees, or more than 35% of the total, are classified as part of America’s creative class.

The creative class is one method of assessing talent or human capital in terms of employment or skill; the other is an educational achievement.

From the Internet to Everywhere

The Great Resignation has changed how people view work. Why stay in one place when you can work from anywhere? Why work 9 to 5 when you have an art class you can take in the morning or kids at soccer in the afternoon, and you certainly *can* work at any time your life makes available?

Businesses of all sizes are determining when and how their workers will return to work, but few companies are embracing the work-from-anywhere setup. Others still are holding to when everything might return to normal.

Media-oriented technology providers are exploring virtual methods to host conferences and product debuts, critical components of their attempts to foster developer and consumer loyalty and enthusiasm, but meaningful innovations in that they further our need and desire to connect and experience the world virtually and remotely.

As a result, companies are seeing the benefits in the transition to remote work, such as speeding up attempts by technology businesses to expand their workforces outside the West Coast hubs of Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, or New York, to not only Texas but all points throughout the world. The result is everyone migrating to where and how they’d prefer to live and work.

From Web 2.0 to Web3

There have been so many developments in the past years, but we have now entered a new phase on the internet.

From the second generation of the internet (Web 2.0) to the internet now emerging, Web3.

Web 2.0 refers to the internet as we know it today. It’s the shift from single web pages to an internet filled with interactivity, social networking, and user-generated content. Web 2.0 enables user-generated material to be seen instantly by millions of people worldwide and if you’re of the mind that “Social Media” refers only to Facebook or Twitter, you’re mistaken, the second generation of the internet is Social Media.

Web3 describes what the internet could be – decentralized, with greater user utility, and openness. It’s within Web3 that innovations such as blockchain, cryptocurrency, and NFTs, are what’s next, and it’s in Web3 that artificial intelligence, machine learning, and quantum computing will push humanity’s experience with the internet even further into experiences unknown. 

With all these going on, and what will be, the Great Resignation is actually a great upgrade for all. 

We are evolving. We are not resigning from jobs… we are only resigning from what the economy used to be and migrating what it is now and what it will be.

The Great Resignation is a Great Migration.

Iterations of the Internet

Web 1 was more or less a static experience as the early internet evolved into the World Wide Web full of websites built and pushed to us.

Web 2.0 with the emergence of blogs, social networks, and messaging, enabled everyone to participate and publish — the internet today is social media.

Web 3, what’s next, is decentralized, meaning fewer organizations own major pieces of it; or rather, everyone has more of a piece of it.

Creative Class Migration

The human spirit migrates from challenge to opportunity. We don’t just throw in the towel and give up, we move, we change, and evolve. Whether the migration from our most distant of ancestors of the continent of Africa, or the migration from Europe to the New World, to that imagery shared above as early pioneers moved West, you know that we don’t resign, we move on.

We’re not resigning, we’re migrating. Migrating from offices, from difficult employers, from unaffordable cities, and from regions of the world struggling to provide great jobs.

Now, this is not to say that every employee will resign to start doing gig work. Rather, the Gig Economy, which has emerged post-COVID, seems to have coalesced with the Great Migration. This, in turn, creates a singularity of sorts.

Those that are interested in Gig work have much more substantial (and sustainable) options to do so. As these new economies develop, the Creative Class is able to leverage their independence from conventional employers. The Creative Class has more freedom and autonomy, as well as more opportunities to sustainably work in their field of choice. It seems that most of them have taken this opportunity.

This has been especially prevalent in the media industry, which I would argue is leading the Migration. Most media is reliant on gig work, and many more have entered the freelance media industry since COVID.

Of those participating in the Great Migration, we cannot ignore those choosing to leave their line of work to pursue a more creative career. Rather than view it as a decrease in the workforce, we should see this exodus as the growth of the Creative Class. It seems that the implications then are rather promising for the future.

Richard Florida today noted as well, the impact on our schools, “I’ve been thinking about remote work and schools … In the heat of the pandemic, many remote workers with families moved for space, outdoors, warm weather & looser restrictions. They discounted schools and school quality … The next remote work migration for families is likely to be for schools. Stay tuned …”

(painting: Covered Wagons Heading West by Newell Convers Wyeth 1882 – 1945)

Paul O'Brien

Silicon Valley technology and startup veteran, Paul O'Brien is affectionately known as SEO'Brien for an extensive past in the search industry. Today as CEO and Founder of MediaTech Ventures, O'Brien works in Venture Capital Economic Development, serving the investment and venture capital economies directly, through thought leadership, consulting, and startup development. More, a regional Director of the Founder Institute incubator and mentor in DivInc, Galvanize, and various startup Accelerators.

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  1. I love this perspective! The great migration is a great way to put it. We’re moving away from the way we used to work to the way we CAN work. As usual, our way of life changes as our technology changes. Very fun reading your flow of thoughts.

    May I suggest breaking this out into a few pieces? Lots of wonderful content to work with. Lastly, great use of the recent jobs reports that came out. CareerBuilder has several great job reports. Any chance you used some of their’s? Thank you for the tag. Grateful to hear my post was a catalyst for you!

    1. Kristi Hightower thank you! Would that I have the time, I’m constantly encouraged to break down my articles into pieces podcasts panel discussions. Alas, I have more readers and thoughts than resources

    1. That idea, Creative Class, is one that needs FAR more exposure, promotion, and discussion. It’s not just #STEM, it’s #STEAM, that matters because the Arts (creativity) is paramount to humans remaining distinct from what machines replace.

  2. I’m curious if there is any information on real wages for teachers over the last 50 years as compared to the amount of administration and their salaries. Also compared to budgets in real dollars. I see empirically that we have tons more building and administrators but teachers still dipping into their own pockets for school supplies or begging the students families for basics like tissue paper or doing fund raisers because they don’t have the budget yet bearly. 50% of the taxes I pay are for school systems. Just curious if that has something to do with it as well

    1. Yes we need more qualitative assessment. Most of the “professional” doesn’t really work 9 to 5, they just naturally work longer, or on weekends sometimes.

      Teachers put in far more hours than just the school day. My wife comes home and preps another 3 hours or so, for the next day. That’s unpaid because it’s not official.

      She did the math once, both actual hours and, to be explicit about it, even accounted for not working during the summer. Figured she makes about $6 / hour.

      Schools are VERY top heavy, at least in Texas. A lot of administration, it seems, relative to very few assistants, subs, etc. Why? The pay and requires really make it suck, unless you really want to teach.

    2. Benjamin Jeffrey, MBA it’s really interesting when you compare Finland and their value of education to the US. The pay there comes with the added perk of high recognition. Meaning, only the best and brightest teach. Why did Finland do this? Because they realized their future was dependent on the education of their children. More autonomy for teachers in Finland and less focus on testing, which is where we are drastically different. In an average school year most public school teachers are spending 1/3 of that time teaching kids to memorize facts on a test. The policies put in place culminate with more administration and more tests. Great article worth reading: https://amp.theguardian.com/education/2015/jun/17/highly-trained-respected-and-free-why-finlands-teachers-are-different

  3. It occurred to me as I reflected over this that the acceptance and popularity of the “side hustle” might have helped illuminate the path ahead for, and perhaps instilled a little self-confidence in the mind of, those who decided to be a part of the “Great Resignation”…just sayin’

    1. That’s my story. Working for a startup exposed me to both how it is different from a J-O-B as well as how difficult it is for entrepreneurs to find their stride.

      Once you experience the possible path ahead, most don’t want to turn back; but, there are few paths forged, so you’re exploring new territory.

      1. Paul O’Brien yep…and as one explores the path/road ahead they encounter forks in the road to other interesting opportunities they would have never seen, otherwise.

    1. I’d love to Ian Newell because I have a few thoughts about this bubbling in my brain. Looking forward to supporting yours.

  4. Yet another great article, Paul. The ROI from public schools is abysmal when you compare our increasing per-pupil expenditures to our plummeting rank in reading and math compared to other countries. Too many administrators continually create new programs that bury teachers with paperwork and prevent their having time to apply their own knowledge and creativity. They aren’t valued and are treated as if they’re just an unintelligent delivery vehicle. No wonder so many are considering leaving.

    Change will require innovation. More and more parents recognize their kids are falling behind, and an increasing number who have the time and the means are pursuing alternatives (e.g., online courses, specialized tutors, and private schools.) One obvious solution that’s vigorously opposed by school administrators consumed by self-preservation (and teachers unions) is to implement voucher programs that would transfer power to parents who could choose where to send their kids, and avoid underperforming schools. In Korea, parents are buying education online, with supply-and-demand driving salaries for the best teachers to astronomical levels.

  5. It’s ironic, isn’t it? The label (i.e., resignation) feels biased towards the employer’s POV. Yet it’s not the employer making the decision. In fact, it’s the bias (i.e., it’s all about the employer) that’s encouraging more employees to look for an LTR that’s based in the 21st Century (not the 20th Century).

    Long to short: Good *employers* are hard to find.

    Good call Paul.

    1. I had a completely different take that I’m going to still explore more… that what we’ve experienced is also a sign of the vacancy of great Leadership.

      Just a thought bubbling in my brain, but what sells in Media? Blood and sex.

      That this, plus the fact that U.S. politics have devolved into a duopoly of mudslinging, occurred at a time when the NEWS (and political agenda) wanted to push the bloodbath.

      “The Great Resignation!!!”

      Which is not just antagonistic about the company and employer, it’s depressing. It feeds the pessimistic side of society.

      The inspirational point of view? Taken in the context of so many people relocating, working from home, and the shift of our economy to the Creative Class? The Next Great Migration.

      This is opportunity, not doom and gloom.

      1. Paul O’Brien – Well, there’s certainly a willingness in the media to:
        1) oversimplify, to the point where nearly all nuance and fact is bled out.
        2) follow a narrative, no matter how crap it might be.

        That said, I agree with you. It’s a lack of true leadership. And that *does* play to my point. Shoddy leaders aren’t looking in the mirror. They’re not asking “why are these people leaving me / us?”

        Put it this way, if we rebranded it “The Great F**k This Place” leaders and managers would have to look in the mirror. As it is, they’re sitting in their blind spot believing it’s anything but them.

        p.s. I’m speaking from experience. I’ve seen more than a couple of organizational horror shows the last year+. It baffles me how so many outfits can be so lost for so long.

  6. As always Paul O’Brien, your comments and perspective are really insightful and spot on! As the Founder/Leader of a boutique executive search firm placing mid and senior level talent, I can tell you wholeheartedly, that employees across all generations just aren’t interested in working the “old way” – namely 9-10 hour days, in an office, 2 week vacation, with little or no direction or career progression offered by their leaders other than the obligatory annual review (which we all know is about as valuable as the paper it’s written on in many organizations)! The big difference today – employees are no longer willing to put up with that old way of doing things, and are instead empowered to act now (by the war for talent, their abysmal annual raises compared to record corporate profits or their realization during covid that life is too short to be in a job you hate – or all the above). It’s time for companies to realize that their employees have a choice, and it’s time to empower and engage their teams

    1. “Employees are no longer willing to put up with that old way of doing things, and are instead empowered to act now”

    1. Thank you, sir! More to come, I think we’re on to something here; the world is going through a revolution

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