The Great Resignation: Existential Reflections in the World of Work

According to the definition of the Career Development Institute (2017), “A career refers primarily to the sequence and variety of work roles, paid or unpaid, that individuals undertake throughout their lives; but it is also the construct which enables individuals to make sense of valued work opportunities and how their work roles relate to their wider life roles.” If we look at this definition, there is not a clear distinction between personal and professional life. Both inform one another and our work is connected to our wider life roles as human beings. 

The latest buzzword in today’s economy is the great resignation. The onslaught of a 2-year covid-19 pandemic was followed by the idea of a new normal in the world of work which manifested in a big wave of resignations. The concept of ‘the great resignation’ was coined by Professor Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A & M University, who predicted a massive wave of resignations following the pandemic (Clark, 2022). 

Reasons for the Great Resignation: Existential Reflections

Professor Klotz identified multiple reasons contributing to the great resignation, the first being work burnout, and the second reason is a build-up of frustrations staying on in jobs that they may not have continued staying on during a time of uncertainty and instability (Clark, 2022). 

However, the other two reasons allude to insights that were developed, and retrospectively realizing their needs from living in the pandemic. Existential concerns around the idea of one’s meaning of life and the purpose of one’s existence start to emerge when individuals spend more time at home and grow greater freedom and independence. While one may argue that individuals face more isolation at work due to increased virtual contact and the lack of an in-person presence at the workplace, individuals get to spend more time at home with their family, a privilege that may not have been accessible with the increased number of work hours spent before the pandemic, an increasing global trend. It is noteworthy that longer working hours of 55 hours and up increase the risk of a stroke and ischemic heart disease by 35% and 17% respectively, as compared to 35 to 40 hours a week, ultimately leading to premature disability and deaths (World Health Organization, 2021). Furthermore, with the added convenience of working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, work-life boundaries are increasingly blurred and workers end up working after hours.

Career Explorations: What This Means for Us in the World of Work 

If you find yourself struggling significantly in your current job, this is a great opportunity for reflection to sit with these existential concerns and explore these struggles and feelings a little deeper. With every challenging experience comes a time of deep struggle and we can either choose to stay curious and explore our anxieties and fears or avoid them altogether and push through them. Although avoidance offers some temporary relief, it does not usually resolve the issues and emotions. Some questions that you can reflect upon and process with your therapist include the following: 

  • What are your top three values in life and to what extent are they met in your current job?
  • What are the difficult emotions you are struggling with when you consider your current job situation?
  • Which are the biggest obstacles standing in your way of feeling more alive and satisfied or excited about the work that you do in your current job? 
  • If you stay in your current job, where do you see yourself now and in 5 and 10 years’ time?
  • If you are seeking new job opportunities, identify the most important job and employer qualities that can help meet your present needs and future dreams and aspirations.

The realms of work and career are complex, diversified, and connect with who we are as cultural beings. Apart from the basic bread and butter economics that jobs supply, employers globally are starting to recognize that beyond a salary, jobs need to grow to meet the needs of the complexities of the human condition within the culture that they are a part of. The pandemic has merely surfaced these complexities. 

References:

Career Development Institute. (2017, March). Definitions: Career development and related roles. https://www.thecdi.net/write/CDI_Definitions_FINAL.pdf 

Clark, P. (2022, April 4). Commentary: Here’s what the man who predicted Great Resignation thinks is coming next. Channelnewsasia.

https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/quit-job-great-resignation-what-next-2604636 

World Health Organization, International Labor Organization (2021, 17 May). Long working hours and increasing deaths from heart disease and stroke.   https://www.who.int/news/item/17-05-2021-long-working-hours-increasing-deaths-from-heart-disease-and-stroke-who-ilo#:~:text=Further%2C%20the%20number%20of%20people,related%20disability%20and%20early%20death

Written By:
Isabelle Ong, Ph.D., LCMHCA, NCC (USA)
Clinical Mental Health Counselor & Psychotherapist
SACAC Counselling

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