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Is It the Great Resignation—Or the Great Reshuffle?

The Great Resignation continues to create big challenges for U.S. manufacturing and other industries. The movement started in late 2020 or early 2021—at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of workers left their jobs due to health and/or safety concerns, large-scale shutdowns, low pay, COVID-19 relief payments, as well as the need to re-evaluate their work/life balance.

In 2022, more than 50 million workers walked away from their jobs, almost 3 million more than in the previous year leaving mass labor shortages in their wake. At that time the quit rate across all industries, on average, was about 3%. The quit rate began to decline in early 2023—in February 2023 the rate was 2.6%. Even so, from January 2023 to August 2023 nearly 31 million employees had resigned from the workforce.


Industries that lost the greatest number of workers during the Great Resignation were mostly service-related: education, air travel, food and hospitality, retail, and social services. Many of these workers either quit or were laid off due to lack of work. Some left to find better opportunities elsewhere, especially with companies that offered high starting wages and the ability to work remotely from home.


Manufacturing Losses


In addition to service-specific sector issues, other industries faced disruptions thanks to the fallout during the Great Resignation. Early into the process, the manufacturing industry experienced intense disruption—orders dived, supply chains broke down, and workers were laid off or quit. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, by the end of 2021 the manufacturing industry had a quit rate of 2.6%. From pre-pandemic conditions to late 2021, the resignation rate jumped nearly 60%. Since then, the manufacturing quit rate continues to drop steadily—in February 2023 the quit rate was 2.2%.


Now that the economy is recovering and production is up, manufacturers are re-hiring—but many of the workers who resigned now have jobs in other fields and are not interested in returning. With qualified and available workers already being hard to find, manufacturers are now offering better wage and benefit packages and attractive incentives such as remote work, flex time, day care, professional development, bonus incentives, more paid time off, and improved health insurance.


Damaged supply chains also contributed to workers losing their jobs; manufacturers found it difficult to meet production schedules because they could not get the materials and supplies they needed to build customer products and forecast accurately. These deficiencies then impacted warehousing/transportation, where more workers quit or were laid off. Many truck drivers, facing less work, retired or switched careers. According to the American Trucking Association, the trucking industry is short-staffed by roughly 80,000 drivers (which is expected to double to 160,000 by 2030). This labor shortage significantly slows down the delivery of materials and supplies, where shipping times for some products have doubled or tripled. “Shipping costs, meanwhile, have multiplied by four to five times, driving up prices of goods for consumers,” stated Worktango.

More than 50 million workers left their jobs during the Great Resignation, leaving mass labor shortages behind.

Rethinking Resignation


Quit rates have thankfully shifted lower in recent months, but the impact is still significant. Hiring rates are now outpacing these losses as many workers transition to other positions, often in a new field.


In hindsight, it seems many workers regret quitting their jobs during the Great Resignation. According to Paychex, Gen Z workers reminisce the most about their old jobs.


“The Great Resignation has led to much regret by employees seeking new opportunities,” said Jeff Williams, vice president of enterprise and HR solutions at Paychex. “Among those regrets, employees were most likely to miss their co-workers. These friendships create a sense of community among employees, creating a positive company culture—another thing employees missed about their previous jobs.”


Other key takeaways from the Paychex survey:


  • 80% of employees who left their jobs during the Great Resignation regret it
  • 68% of employees say they have attempted to get their jobs back, but only 27% of employers have rehired employees that left during this period.
  • 30 percent of employers will not rehire workers who quit
  • Of the 9 out of 10 workers who quit and changed industries, 25% regretted leaving their fields
  • Only 50% of workers who resigned are satisfied with their mental health and work-life balance in their new workplace


Williams advises workers to avoid job-hopping so they do not present the image of lack of commitment.


“The Great Resignation changed not only the workplace but also the minds of those seeking better work opportunities,” said Williams. “The good news is that there’s hope for job hoppers who have had a change of heart about their decision to resign. Many employers are still willing to rehire people and improve their benefits, too.”

"The Great Resignation changed not only the workplace but also the minds of those seeking better work opportunities. The good news is that there’s hope for job hoppers who have had a change of heart about their decision to resign. Many employers are still willing to rehire people and improve their benefits, too."
Jeff Williams, Vice President of Enterprise & HR Solutions


Moving Ahead


There’s work to do building back the labor force in U.S. manufacturing. The Great Resignation has put pressure on the industry to shift focus in both hiring and retention. The evolving workforce and ever-changing needs of the market require strategic pursuit and a refocus for manufacturers.


A recent industry outlook published by Deloitte outlined key focus areas to fortify the manufacturing workforce in the years ahead. Among the recommendations, the firm says digital tools are a must. What was once a luxury has now become a necessity. Deloitte suggests manufacturers lean in to digital tools such as mobile apps and AI to engage potential employees and even perform initial outreach. These tools, and the advanced technology they offer, save time and money by increasing the talent pool, helping find and those highly skilled workers, and whittle out candidates who may not be the correct fit.


Additionally, Deloitte notes that manufacturers should tap into established knowledge bases. As noted, the Great Resignation has caused many to exit the field early. This leaves several highly skilled, highly knowledge experts out of work prematurely who could impart decades of  knowledge to the next generation. Rather than start from scratch with only by-the-book training, Deloitte suggests allowing some of the recent retirees with the established knowledge base to help train and mentor the new leaders alongside the traditional training methods.


The Great Resignation has left a significant gap within the manufacturing industry, but the market is not without options. Companies who take a strategic, actionable approach to today’s challenges can take advantage of the current position to advance their business.

    April 22, 2024

    Some opinions expressed in this article may be those of a contributing author and not necessarily Gray.

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