Column: Why the ‘great resignation’ of 2021 is a sign of hope

An empty office cubicle with a chair and a desk.
(Nicholas Kostin / Getty Images)

It’s been a tough week for America.

A dark week.

The attack at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan, killed 13 U.S. service members, including Marine Rylee McCollum, who at 20, only knew this country at war. And because of war, his unborn child will never get to know him.

Meanwhile, the debate over mask mandates has turned a number of school board meetings into hotbeds for anti-vax protests and nonsensical conspiracy theories. The fights are overshadowing the more important story: People are dying.

There’s been a lot to process, and judging by the discourse on social media, we aren’t doing a very good job of it, as the word “freedom” continues its rapid descent to shorthand for “screw you.”

I consider myself a glass-half-full sort of guy, but it’s been a week in which I wanted to throw that glass against the wall in anger.


In pain.

There was, however, one piece of news I found to be positive: The workplace is changing and employers will have to respond. According to a new report from Adobe, Gen Z and millennials are the driving force behind the “great resignation,” which could lead to the most significant office culture change since email.

In April, more than 4 million employees quit their jobs. Another 4 million did so in June. The trend is not slowing down, as 56% of Gen Z workers said they were unhappy with the work-life balance at their current job.

Dissatisfaction in that department is nothing new.

The workforce doing something about it is.

With more than 9 million open positions, inflexible employers are struggling to find workers as businesses open up more. A lot of that can be attributed to young people demanding change. More than half of Gen Z respondents to the survey said they plan to look for a new job in the next year.

Some 66% of Gen Z and 73% of millennials say they will switch jobs to get more control of their schedule. More than 60% of both groups want to find new jobs for a chance to work remotely.

In a week in which many of us found ourselves wondering if anything would get better, the report gave me hope that they could.

That they are.

American capitalism has long required workers to find a balancing act between the push to work hard to achieve the American dream and the pull to enjoy the life that economic security is supposed to bring. In recent decades, the push has only gotten worse and workers have had to accept the premise that even hoping for a work/life balance was counterproductive — or worse, possibly a sign of personal mediocrity and a failure of ambition.


To see younger workers reject this view and cause employers, some kicking and screaming, to move toward changes in the workplace is a much-needed reminder that we are not helpless.

That shift in thinking is cause for hope, even in a week as difficult as this one.

When the pandemic forced the country to shut down, there was great uncertainty. Fear. What is emerging is a long overdue recalibration. More people are resetting their priorities, and maybe forcing policymakers to do so, too. After all, no one dies wishing they had spent more time at the office.