Western media have been reporting that 2021 was the year of the "Great Resignation" or the “Big Quit,” where a deluge of workers voluntarily quit their jobs due to several economic and even psychological factors. Data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded an all-time-high 3.0% quit rate (or equivalent to 4.4 million resignations) in the U.S. in September 2021 alone – the highest rate since these data were first published in December 2000.
What is driving all these quits? And is this happening in the Philippines, too, given that many businesses have closed and laid off employees, among other unfortunate activities?
Yahoo Philippines sat down with Darwin Rivers, the founder of the Philippines HR Group – a non-profit and Securities and Exchange Commission-registered organization that currently has over 263,000 members, mostly professionals from the human resources sector – to talk about the Great Resignation, its factors, and how it affects Filipino employers and employees today.
Why are people quitting?
The Great Resignation is a phenomenon that started in the US wherein a large number of people are willingly resigning from their jobs during and probably even after the pandemic. While COVID-19-related factors (such as the lack of safety measures in American offices and people having permanent disabilities due to coronavirus infection) are usually what's being pointed out as the biggest causes of the Great Resignation, many other factors also play as well.
"COVID-19 was just the main driver, but also supporting the Big Quit is the fact that there have been wage stagnations and rising living costs in the US recently," Rivers told Yahoo Philippines in a mix of English and Filipino. "So if your expenses for your rent, food, and transportation are increasing, and yet your wage is not, then you have a problem."
Rivers also pointed out the unemployment insurance that is common in many first-world countries like the US as another reason why Americans are resigning. "The US [has unemployment insurance that is provided to] to qualified unemployed citizens. So given the wage stagnations and rising living costs, people's mindset has turned into 'I will not work anymore since I will receive [an unemployment insurance], anyway.'" However, this insurance is valid for only 18 months.
Rivers added, "Imagine, the amount of their [unemployment insurance] is probably even higher than their monthly wage, which is usually not enough to pay for their monthly dues like their rent, electric and water bills, food, and transportation, among others."
A study from Adobe last year also pointed out that members of Generation Z (adults between the ages of 18 and 24) and millennials (adults between the ages of 25 and 39) are posting higher resignation rates.
"When Adobe asked the survey respondents why they resigned, they answered 'self-realization.' Workers have been realizing, 'What is important to me? My career and the working condition that comes with it are important. My long-term goals are important. But my life outside of my job is also important,'" explained Rivers. "Being exposed to the news of deaths and infections every day made people realize, 'Hey, wait a minute. What is more important these days: my life or my job?'"
Rivers also said that aside from this "self-realization," Gen Z adults and millennials are also the same people who value their work-life balance more than any other people from other generations.
"They would always demand work-life balance and if their employer cannot give them that, they would rather quit and find another job," said Rivers. "This has become even more evident in the pandemic. They would say, 'Hang on. I need my work-life balance now because my life is also just as important as my career. I want to make sure that I have a balanced life. I do not want to overwork myself during the pandemic."
The Great Resignation is happening not only in the US Eventually, other first-world countries started reporting about experiencing the Big Quit, such as France, Belgium, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom. China is also experiencing the phenomenon, although they call it "Tang Ping" which roughly translates to "planking" or "lying flat" in English.
"Tang Ping is actually a lifestyle choice, a mentality by the young Chinese population. Did you know that people in China work for 12 hours a day, six days a week? So the younger Chinese workers choose to avoid that," said Rivers. Uncharacteristically of them, “They would rather go against what society is dictating them because they feel that if they continue overworking, it would be dangerous to their health."
Is there a ‘Big Quit’ now in the Philippines?
“Not yet,” answered Rivers when asked if the Philippines and its neighboring countries are also experiencing the Great Resignation.
He explained that while wage stagnations have become common in many developed countries like the US, the same cannot be said in many countries in Asia. In the Southeast Asian region alone, countries like Singapore and Malaysia have consistently increased their wages.
There is a different picture in the Philippines.
A lot of Filipinos cannot easily resign from their jobs because we do not have impressive social security checks the way other countries do... We do not have the luxury to resign and become unemployed because, unlike Americans, we do not always have a fallback.Darwin Rivers, Philippines HR Group
Rivers explained, "Real talk: a lot of Filipinos cannot easily resign from their jobs because we do not have impressive social security checks the way other countries do. The ayuda or financial aid that the government gives is just how much, P8,000 ($157)? The minimum wage in the Philippines, meanwhile, plays around P12,000 ($235) to P15,000 ($294). So it is still practical to have a job here."
He stressed, "We do not have the luxury to resign and become unemployed because, unlike Americans, we do not always have a fallback. The government here may give ayuda but only to people who lost their jobs because their companies had to close, for example; they will not give an ayuda to those who just voluntarily quit."
Another reason the Philippines is not yet going through the Big Quit, according to Rivers, is that many companies here were quick to pivot to a longer or more permanent work-from-home set-up; whereas, in the US, employees had to quit because they were being required to go back to the office right away even though they were not yet comfortable to do so.
Many Philippine companies are also incentivizing loyalty to avoid their long-time and tenured employees from leaving.
Despite the Philippines not yet having a Great Resignation, Rivers noted that there remain many Filipinos who resign from their jobs – but not to become permanently unemployed but to look for better opportunities somewhere else.
Such as in the case of Karen Alvarez, who resigned from her previous job as a graphic artist in an advertising company and moved to another creative agency that, according to her, provides better working conditions.
She said, “In my new company, I am assured that I only work within my shift. In the few times that I need to work overtime, I am guaranteed a payment. They also provide some other allowances like internet subsidy, rice allowance, and transportation allowance, and also provided me with a work laptop and other equipment – things that I never had in my previous company.”
Alvarez added that she realized how important it is to have a life beyond work. She shared, "I used to take pride in doing more work. But now, I am happy that I can dedicate my weekends to my hobbies like skateboarding and reading. I can now sleep longer, and I also watch Netflix more than I ever did before. These are things that I no longer want to let go of."
Alvarez's case is nothing new. Rivers said, "Many companies now are already having the opportunity to cherry-pick applicants because there are now more applicants than job openings," said Rivers. "That increases the level of competition among job applicants."
There is now a growing number of Filipino companies that have been implementing a more permanent work-from-home set-up for their employees. Many of them are also becoming more flexible to meet the demands of their people.
"If a company cannot be flexible with their employees' work hours or working conditions, their people will leave, especially now that people are aware already about other companies' better work culture," said Rivers.
How to avoid high resignation rates?
In October last year, Yahoo Philippines published a report about how Filipino employers have started adopting initiatives that champion and safeguard their employees' mental health. This is because of the "mental health crisis" that was brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Work is not the only thing on our minds today; mental health and well-being have [also] been a top priority for the past two years.Rajnish Sinha, TaskUs
"The good news is that many business leaders insist [that] this unprecedented mental health crisis requires companies to make mental health and wellness a priority,” said Bryan Robinson, Ph.D., who built his professional career on the themes of resilience and work-life balance, in an opinion article for Forbes. “Making discussions of mental health a standard practice and destigmatizing mental health issues are at the top of the list, along with prioritizing self-care and workplace wellness.”
Global Wellness Institute defined "workplace wellness" as “any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behavior among employees and to improve health outcomes.” Workplace wellness has been expanded over the past decade to encompass the creation of a “culture of health” within the worksite, which is what Robinson suggested in his Forbes opinion.
These initiatives by many employers are among the factors that prevent the Great Resignation from happening in many proactive companies; they implement wellness programs and provide additional perks and benefits to attract those like Alvarez who resigned from their jobs and looked for employers with better working conditions.
While the Great Resignation may happen to many countries with wage stagnations and rising living costs, as in the case of the US, companies can manage their employees to prevent them from leaving.
For one, it is important for companies to focus on their employees' mental health. Rajnish Sinha, Chief People Officer of digital-outsourcing firm TaskUs, told Authority Magazine recently, "Work is not the only thing on our minds today; mental health and well-being have [also] been a top priority for the past two years.”
He added that employers will need to adapt and be flexible, especially when it comes to their employees’ work schedules. This can be as simple as advocating more time to spend with family, additional mental health days, and additional benefits.
Employees would also want to feel engaged with their employers. "They want to know how their work is affecting the environment [and] how their company is working to become more diverse and inclusive," said Sinha. "There needs to be more communication from the top down and not just through email. Employers can get creative with how they engage their employees."
Sinha also said that being in a pandemic made people look for experiences and a feeling of fulfillment. He said, “Is the educated workforce getting the mental satisfaction and experiences they are looking for? Does the organization have policies and processes to encourage movement?" Employers, according to Sinha, need to be more mindful that employees are constantly looking for new and exciting opportunities to fulfill their needs.
(Update: The first version of this story said that unemployed Americans receive a social security check from the government. This story has been updated to clarify that they receive unemployment insurance and not a social security check. The insurance is also valid for 18 months only.)
Juju Z. Baluyot is a Manila-based writer who writes in-depth special reports, news features, and opinion-editorial pieces for a wide range of publications. He covers cultures, media, and gender.
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