The Great Resignation Will be Good for Corporations, Not Workers | Opinion

"The Great Resignation" refers to the recent trend of millions of workers quitting their jobs. One-fourth of the American population quit their job this year and roughly half of the U.S. workforce intends to join the Great Resignation. The fundamental driver of the Great Resignation is the desire among workers to find work that has a purpose, flexibility and no longer feel like a disengaged cog in a machine. In the long run, the Great Resignation will not benefit workers—it will benefit corporations and the rich.

The optimism centering around the Great Resignation is understandable. Most jobs are menial, meaningless, disengaging and thus, disenchanting. Before the pandemic, many workers had neither the time nor the self-opacity to reflect on this fact. During the pandemic, when most workers lost their jobs, many had the time to reflect on this fact.

Throughout the pandemic, an unspecified number of workers switched their professions, opting for work that entailed greater flexibility and purpose. The reporting on this has been widespread and pronounced in the media, often illustrating the current state of work as a free-for-all in which workers have quite a bit of power. This is mostly a caricature of what is happening. In reality, the nature of the Great Resignation is currently largely ambiguous.

Of the millions of workers who've been quitting their jobs over the past few months, there is virtually no direct data that tells us what they're doing with their time. What can be inferred is that such workers aren't spending their time doing nothing. Most, it seems, are looking for work. Given the vast discrepancy between the millions of workers who've quit their jobs, and the mere hundreds of thousands of jobs added over the past few months, it's fair to deduce that most of these workers haven't found jobs yet.

There are roughly 10 million jobs available to the 8.4 million Americans who are out of work. Considering that most occupations which people quit are in the labor, service, or retail sectors and that the jobs they hope to attain undoubtedly require further education or training, the question remains: How many of these workers are actively seeking such education or training?

A man walks past "Now Hiring"
A man walks by a "Now Hiring" sign outside a store. OLIVIER DOULIERY/AFP via Getty Images

The data on this matter is essentially non-existent. What, then, is the probable outcome of the Great Resignation? Consider whether American culture and society actively demand proper job training and education that facilitates meaningful work. Frankly, it's the opposite: American culture and society are notoriously anti-intellectual and market-oriented. Every institution has profit as its fundamental driver, and education is not above this. When this is coupled with the general social attitude in America that chastises the educated or those interested in obtaining a better education, one cannot help but be pessimistic on whether or not the millions of workers who left their place of work are being sufficiently trained or educated to attain meaningful work.

If such anti-intellectualism results in only a small number of these workers obtaining the appropriate education to get the work they desire, economic inequality will skyrocket. The sectors hit the hardest by the Great Resignation also consist of the most readily-automatable jobs. There's very little chance in the short-term that many will return to working for service and retail jobs—even with astounding benefit offers, these jobs still aren't being filled. But the demand for these industries is quite high, giving them all the more reason to speed up automating such jobs.

It's unlikely that most of these workers will obtain the meaningful jobs they are looking for unless drastic changes to American attitudes toward education occur. Unfortunately, institutions are not likely to reorient themselves toward helping Americans find meaningful work. What is more likely is that only a select few already hyper-educated workers will reap the benefits of the Great Resignation. The majority of the population is left to what historian Yuval-Noah Harari called "the useless class." And it won't necessarily be their fault—but they'll undoubtedly be made to feel that it is.

Most workers who quit will likely attempt to "boomerang"—or go back to the same job after some time away. However, they will only do so when it is too late. Their jobs—along with millions more—will be gone in a way comparable to industrial jobs after the 1980s. The Great Resignation has no end in sight—as labor shortages rise, conditions at worksites will worsen, making the incentive to quit even greater. Suppose these jobs are swiftly automated, and anti-intellectualism retains its predominance in American life—the Great Resignation will simply be a win for corporations and a small number of highly educated individuals, not the masses of workers striving for a better life.

Daniel Lehewych is a graduate student of philosophy at the CUNY Graduate Center, specializing in moral psychology, ethics and the philosophy of mind. He is a freelance writer, powerlifter and health science enthusiast.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own