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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies that made it through the pandemic in one piece now have a major new problem: more than a quarter of their employees may leave.

What's happening: Workers have had more than a year to reconsider work-life balance or career paths, and as the world opens back up, many of them will give their two weeks' notice and make those changes they’ve been dreaming about.

“The great resignation” is what economists are dubbing it.

  • Surveys show anywhere from 25% to upwards of 40% of workers are thinking about quitting their jobs.
  • "I don't envy the challenge that human resources faces right now," says Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University.

Anumber of colliding trends are driving the resignation boom, experts say.

  • University of Michigan economist Betsey Stevenson tells Axios, "People have had a little more space to ask themselves, 'Is this really what I want to be doing?'" So some are deciding they want to work fewer hours or with more flexibility to create more time for family or hobbies.
  • Others are considering switching careers entirely.
    • A cruise ship staffer trained and pivoted to work in a data center because the pandemic showed her the volatility of her industry.
    • An insurance broker and her restaurant manager husband both left their jobs to start a landscaping company because they realized during the pandemic that they wanted to spend more time outside.
  • Some are quitting because their bosses won't let them work from home post-pandemic. Others are leaving because they miss their offices, but their companies are now hybrid or all-remote.
  • "A lot of people who want to go back are finding that the office that they come back to is not the office they left behind," Klotz says.

There's not much firms can do to hold onto employees who want to switch fields. But human resources may be able to retain some workers by offering as much flexibility as possible, says Cathy Moy, chief people officer at BDO USA, a financial services company.

But, but, but: The big churn could ultimately be good for workers and employers.

  • There are now a record 9.3 million open jobs in America, Axios' Felix Salmon reports. And people can still rely on unemployment insurance so they're not desperate to nab the first job offer that comes along, Stevenson says.
  • "Hopefully we’ll see a lot more people in 2022 employed and stable because they're in jobs they actually like," she says.

Go deeper

Sep 14, 2021 - Economy & Business

What young people want from their employers

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Workers increasingly want their companies to think bigger than profits and speak up on social issues — and it's younger employees driving the trend.

The big picture: As the next generation enters the workforce, companies will have to devote even more time and resources to tackling issues like systemic racism, income inequality and climate change.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

3 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.

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