Human Side Of Economics


(Part 3)

In an article on the internet by Alistair Cox, CEO of Hays (the world’s leading recruitment specialist) in the US, entitled “The Great Resignation: Why are so many thinking about quitting?,” it is reported that according to Microsoft’s 2021 Work Trend, 41% of people are likely to consider leaving their jobs within 2021. Although the Philippines is not the US, it is worthwhile for Filipino employers to ponder the reasons for this phenomenon. They may get some insights into how their own workers have been affected by the extraordinary circumstances surrounding them during these last two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. The uncertainties, the fears, the frustrations of actually being laid off could have led to what we can call “The Great Awakening” about how insensitive a market economy could be to the multi-dimensional nature of human aspirations. Human beings work not only to earn a living. As we noted in the previous parts of this article, at the highest level of aspirations, some human beings who practice the Christian faith find in their work the means of sanctifying themselves and going to heaven.

Before going into the reasons why there is this unprecedented movement of talent, Mr. Cox noted that certain demographics of society appear to be more open to the idea of quitting than others. This insight may be useful to understand whatever parallel movement we may observe in the Philippine labor scene sooner or later. Sandra Sucher, Harvard Business School professor, found out through research that low-wage workers are particularly motivated to change jobs with even marginally better offers. Many retail and service workers are departing in favor of entry-level positions elsewhere — in warehouses or offices, for instance — that actually pay less, but offer more benefits, upward mobility, and compassion. With employers across the board looking for new hires, many found it’s easy to find another job and make a transition into more human fulfilling jobs.

The so-called Generation Z (workers in their twenties), according to Microsoft research, could be considering leaving their jobs because they reported difficulties feeling engaged and excited about work, getting a word in during meetings, and bringing new ideas to the table. These young workers may most likely join the so-called gig economy of freelancers who value flexibility in their schedule and diversity of work. Research from people analytics firm, Visier, found that the cohort of employees between 30 to 40 years old saw large increases in resignations between August 2019 and August 2020, indicating that those who are more settled in their careers are more likely to consider switching jobs. As of December 2020, resignations among managers were 12% higher than the previous year.

During the pandemic, workers have been given time and space to reflect on both their personal and professional lives. Even if most workers were not considering looking for a new job or occupation before the pandemic hit, chances are that they are now. According to a recent LinkedIn poll of over 25,000 people, 74% said that the pandemic has made them reconsider their job or career choices.  The reasons are various: feeling of not being supported on a number of levels by their employers; being forced to confront one’s own mortality in a way they never had before — something that many have never had the luxury of doing before; the realization that life is too short to do a job they don’t love, for a company they don’t think cares about them. Some just don’t want to go back to the office. This awakening, coupled with the fact that many have already relocated or are planning to so in order to be closer to family or to achieve the lifestyle they always dreamt of (like those here who started working from their second homes in Nasugbu or Matabunkay, Batangas). According to Microsoft research, some 46% of people say that they are more likely to move because they can work remotely now.

The more leisurely work schedule that those who work remotely discovered during the pandemic made them realize how burned out they had been before the pandemic. The Microsoft survey came out with the following findings:

• 37% of the global workforce say their companies are asking too much of them at a time like this.

• One in five think their employer doesn’t care about their work-life balance.

• 54% feel overworked and 39% feel exhausted.

• The Average Microsoft Teams user is sending 42% more chats after office hours, with 50% of people responding to Teams chats within five minutes.

Microsoft argues that these frightening stats “prove the intensify of the workday, and that what is expected of workers during this time has increased significantly. It is no wonder that many people are reconsidering their job options. Technology might have facilitated the transition to the work from home mode. But it also blurred the lines between work and private life and the level of burnout and exhaustion is unsustainable.”

The new circumstances in which they have to work during the pandemic have made people re-examine their need for personal development. They have postponed for too long their acquiring higher or new skills. High performing workers are the most concerned about their career development in their current job, with 75% of people saying the pandemic has made them question their skillsets. Many feel that to reach the next level and achieve their goals, they have no choice but to change jobs.

Working at home during the pandemic has had a counterproductive impact on the attitude of some employees to the current work they are doing. Without the welcome distractions and colleague camaraderie that come with working in an office, they have realized that they don’t actually enjoy the work they have been performing in their present job. As a result, there has been a huge rise in people deciding to go it alone and set up their own solo ventures. According to the National Bureau of Economic Statistics, the pace of new business applications since mid-2020 has been the highest on record, and across the course of the pandemic there has been a rise in side hustles (work done at home as a sideline). This is echoed by Microsoft’s research which found that 46% of people are planning to make a major career pivot or transition.

How can employers turn this threat of mass resignation into an opportunity? Alistair Cox gave the answer in a sequel to the article on the “Great Resignation.” He suggests two strategic moves which are ultimately based on understanding what a human-centered approach to work requires:

1. Firstly, the opportunity to redefine our employee value proposition to stop our best people from leaving in the first place, and retain them for the long-term.

2. And, secondly, the opportunity to attract those currently working for other employers who fully intend to be part of the “Great Resignation” and are about to be, or already are on the market for a new job.

(To be continued.)


Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.