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Fickleness, the Labour Force, and Individuals’ Choices: A Call for Further Research

Dr. Dana Segev

In this paper, I discuss the ‘fickleness’ of the labour market between the years 2020-2023. Particular attention is given to experts’ insight into the Great Resignation and how the Covid-19 pandemic might have shaped labour force participation. Furthermore, I discuss attitudinal change towards work and the accelerated hiring and layoffs of companies. I highlight that existing studies provide a fragmented and contradictory perspective into the subject, leaving a significant gap in scholarly understanding. I argue that the drastic changes in environmental conditions, working style and employment opportunities over recent years could potentially have profound long term implications for societies, individuals, prosperity, well being, and the economy at large. In particular, the ‘fickleness of the 20s’ may have a long term impact on the dynamics of labour force participation and a new generation of workers, which can, in turn, impact the economy and prosperity.

1. Introduction

Social scientists publish research findings years after a social phenomena had first manifested; studying and disseminating data that had been accumulated for years. In so doing, social processes are usually understood in hindsight, while tapping into newly occurring social trends in a scientific way is less accessible and more challenging. Recent global economic trends and choices of workers can benefit from more urgent attention, as some countries are experiencing labour market ‘fickleness’ which influences the overall economy. In 2021, there was an unprecedented large exit of workers from the US labour market, believed to be incentivised by the Covid-19 pandemic (Fuller & Kerr, 2022). The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that over 47 million workers voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 (Fuller & Kerr, 2022); an unusually high rate which mystified economists. This phenomena — of people quitting their jobs at an accelerated rate — has been referred to as the Great Resignation, a term coined by Prof. Anthony Klotz at Texas A&M University (Kuzior, Kettler & Rab, 2022; del Rio-Chanona et al., 2022). It is unclear when the Great Resignation started but analysts restrict it to a 2021 phenomena (del Rio-Chanona et al., 2022).

Economists have little insight into how quit rates compare across countries; yet, it is generally suggested that the Great Resignation is a global phenomena of developed (mainly Western) countries (see Kuzior, Kettler & Rab, 2022). From the limited data available, the UK’s Labour Force Survey marked the highest spike of people quitting that had ever been recorded between July and September 2021, where 1.02 million people moved jobs, out of which 391,000 people had resigned (Cable & Gratton, 2022). Reports in the media and several academic papers (see, for example, Kuzior, Kettler & Rab, 2022; del Rio-Chanona et al., 2022) note that this trend has taken root in countries such as Australia, France, and Germany, and later, at the end of 2021: Spain, Netherlands, and Italy demonstrated employment instability (Horowitz, 2022). Although speculators shared their thoughts on this trend in various business articles, very little empirical insight can be drawn on the forces that mobilised the Great Resignation and its impact on societies and individuals. Whether this trend was catalysed by policies implemented and financial benefits provided during the Covid-19 pandemic (henceforth referred to as ‘the pandemic’)? Or whether there was a change in social values relating to work, which predated but were further catalysed by the pandemic? Or whether the pandemic played a role in altering people’s attitude towards work, labour market behaviourism, and the way people wish to structure their lives? Or whether it is a combination of the above.

In this paper, I discuss the ‘fickleness’ of the labour market in the 20s, mainly focusing on the Great Resignation, but provide a broader outlook on the accelerated hiring and layoffs of companies during 2020-2023. I sketch out experts’ views on the forces which mobilised the Great Resignation with careful attention to experts’ assumptions and data lacking. I note that there is a lack of empirical data into the forces which mobilised the Great Resignation and into the extent to which the shifting paradigms since the start of the 20s had possibly shaped people’s habits, behaviours, and choices around work. This under researched topic is key in understanding how (if at all) the pronounced events in recent years have potentially structured and shaped societies, economies, individuals, and prosperity. Thus, it is momentous we do not leave this topic lacking in a critical review based on existing data, with the aim of directing future research on the subject. I begin by discussing the different types of trends during the Great Resignation (Section 2) and experts’ views on the forces driving it (Section 3), before turning to a more contemplative discussion on ‘pandemic epiphanies’ (Section 4), and the fickleness of the labour market in recent years (Section 5).

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Fickleness, the Labour Force, and Individual Choices
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