You’ve probably seen the headlines – a global ‘Great Resignation’ is supposedly underway as workers quit their jobs in droves to look for better pay and conditions in the wake of the pandemic.
It was one of the major stories of 2021, particularly in the United States, and also among local commentators in Australia, with warnings workers would use newfound bargaining power to put bosses in a tricky position.
Workers are said to be looking to re-balance their entire relationships to work, with shorter hours and more time to spend with family and friends.
But there’s a wrinkle in the narrative – at least as far as Australia goes: the latest data indicates this wave of resignations isn’t so great.
Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), said on Thursday that the number of workers leaving their jobs to find better ones is actually only “slightly elevated” as a rolling two-year average.
In other words, the latest ABS data – published in a spotlight on labour market mobility – suggests the “great resignation” is actually a big fizzer.
The ‘slightly elevated’ resignation
Mr Jarvis noted the number of Australians who said they resigned to take a “better job” or because they “wanted a change” rose from 228,000 in February 2020 to more than 300,000 in August and November 2021.
But that came after it fell to 129,000 in May 2020 as COVID set in and many local workers opted to hunker down with their existing employers.
“Given the reduced job mobility during the first year of the pandemic, some of the increase in 2021 will reflect delayed/deferred job mobility,” Mr Jarvis said on Twitter.
“The rolling two-yearly average for this reason was around 206,000 in November 2019 and around 222,000 in November 2021.”
These figures are nothing like what happened in the United States – where the purported great resignation has also been challenged – after almost a third of its workforce changed jobs during November 2021.
Professor Jeff Borland, a leading labour market economist at Melbourne University, said the ABS data shows no evidence of a resignation wave.
“At the moment there’s no evidence of a great resignation in Australia,” he said.
Professor Borland said a key measure – the percentage of employed people who do not expect to be with their employer in 12 months – has not shown a big increase that can’t be explained by catch-up effects.
“It’s a little bit above where it was, but that’s completely explicable in terms of catch up,” he said.
This doesn’t mean the pandemic hasn’t driven big changes in the way workers think about their employment though – look no further than the huge rise in remote working in Australia and around the world.
The latest jobs data also suggests businesses are finding it harder to locate workers, with unemployment sitting at a decade low 4.2 per cent.
So, what’s going on? And does the lack of a great resignation Down Under mean workers are less likely to get better conditions in 2022?
Workers still have more power in 2022
APAC Indeed economist Callam Pickering spends a lot of time looking at how Australians are moving around the jobs market.