Have you heard of “The Great Resignation” or the “Big Quit”? If you haven’t, it’s the ongoing trend in the United States of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs—from spring 2021 to the present—in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The American government is at fault for refusing to provide necessary worker protection while wages stagnate, and the cost of living continues to rise.

From across the border, my instinct tells me that indeed the United States is in the throngs of a great resignation. Hundreds, even thousands of people are changing jobs each week, resigning in droves and moving to new and/or better organizations. Employees are seeking better pay, better working conditions and more recognition for the work they have done during this pandemic. Further, people are resigning for other reasons – like the choice that their employer has made about returning to the office. Many employees will not go back to the office after 18 months of being remote, favouring an organization that plans to stay remote indefinitely or allows for a new hybrid work environment.

Though better known in the United States, many are wondering how this trend is affecting us as Canadians. Are we experiencing a similar movement? Is it a great resignation or more of a great transition?

In both Canada and the United States, people have struggled financially and socially. The pandemic has caused immense mental health problems and financial hardships due to lost, decreased, or stagnant wages. Many employees miss the camaraderie they once had in the office, while others are working harder and better than ever on their own at home, saving hours a day not commuting.

What is clear is that in both Canada and the United States, it’s problematic to generalize about the increase in resignations. It stems largely from individuals who desire change for reasons that are affecting everyone differently.

The Great… Transition?

The Financial Post recently reported extremely high levels of resignations in September in the United States compared to the number of jobs created in the same period. A record 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs while the number of available positions eased to 10.4 million. Although Canada is nowhere near the size and population of the United States, we are not experiencing these same extremes. As the cross-border war on talent continues, some industries are having major difficulties in hiring qualified candidates. In Canada, employees are asking themselves difficult questions to determine their next career steps and goals. Some are still employed but looking to move on, some have resigned with working notice and are looking for work, and some have quit and are taking their time looking for the next great opportunity. Each scenario is very different and yet the outcome is the same.

Canadians are experiencing a transition that has not been experienced since the Great Depression. Certain sectors of the economy have been hit hard; companies are laying off employees, changing the way they do business or simply closing their doors. Other sectors are thriving and can’t hire fast enough to keep up with their growth. Other industries, like the service industry, are struggling with a shortage of talent – they can’t get people to work with or for them. Just walk through a mall and look at the high number of stores advertising “Help Wanted”.

CTV News reported that the unemployment rate in Ontario decreased to 7.3% for the month of September, down from 7.6% in August. Canada added 157,000 jobs in September, returning to pre-pandemic levels.

While these numbers are moving in the right direction, this pandemic and the last 18 months have left so many unanswered questions and unknown outcomes. There is light at the end of the tunnel, but I wonder whether it’s white light, a flashing light or even a red light. Will this light bring us answers or just more uncertainties?

The one thing we know for certain, and there is no question about this: people are making changes to their lives, both personal and professional. People have taken control of their lives and are now serious about finding work that makes them happy, exploring their passions, and making the right decision for themselves. This includes moving for better wages or better working conditions or even more chances at promotion and greater recognition. This is why, in my mind, what Canada is experiencing is a great transition.

Let’s embrace the change we’re experiencing and let’s continue to learn from it. There is so much to be thankful for and so many decisions left to be made. Enjoy this time. Our future is looking bright!

Anne Bloom is a Principal with The Osborne Group (an interim and contract executive consulting practice) where she is part of the Human Resources practice. Reach Anne at abloom@localhost for further discussion.