Since 2020, the USA has seen more resignations in the workforce – especially when compared to the rate of new hires and retrenchment rates. In China, we’ve seen a movement called tang ping (躺平). In this movement, young Chinese working professionals decide to resign, re-evaluate their life and career goals. The outcome is often that they decide to sacrifice a high-stress career and high paying jobs for something that pays the bills and have less stress.

The great resignation outside South Africa

In March and April 2020, a record 13.0 and 9.3 million workers (8.6% and 7.2%) [in the USA] were laid off, and the quit rate subsequently fell to a seven-year low of 1.6%

Economic Policy Institute

The great resignation in South Africa

During the COVID-19 lockdown, I was forced to take a 30% pay cut for three months, with little hope to be compensated by the government through UIF or TERS. It was in July of 2020 that I resigned from my abusive, high-stress job to run my own business.

Clearly, I am not an isolated case. People across the world are re-evaluating their lives and considering if the stress and long hours are helping them become who they want to be. We’ve seen mass resignations in South Africa too. Business Day featured an article about this. It found that:

Almost 69% of remuneration survey participants [] indicated that they struggled to attract new or retain their existing talent.

Business Tech

Reasons for mass resignations

For many people, the hard lockdown was a time when they had to re-evaluate what is important to them:

  • Is this work load sustainable in the long term?
  • If I would die tomorrow, would I be happy doing what I’m doing in my job?
  • How much money is enough?
  • Am I chasing money to buy things I don’t need and do I need less to survive?

In some cases, people choose to do everything that they’ve been dreaming of – starting a business, travelling, spending more time with family and taking a sabbatical.

In a recent survey, we see that since lockdown, 36% of respondents said that they expected employees to answer emails after hours. Without proper boundaries between personal and professional life, most employees are taken advantage of at the cost of their mental health. Many workers burn out and need a way to regroup and rest.

There also seems to be a search for a work-life balance – as was the case with me, I needed something where I was not on standby 24/7 and required to jump on a call with someone after hours (unpaid, of course). I have some friends that opted to negotiate with their employer and semigrated to the coast. This allowed him to still be employed but his location made his work-life balance better.

 What do people do when they resign?

Other people are not as lucky to be able to negotiate with their employers. They opt to resign. What do people do when they resign in the great resignation?

  • Some opt to work for employers with lower stress levels.
  • Other decide to leave the industry they’re in completely.
  • As was the case with me, I wanted to work for myself. I wanted multiple clients, and different small businesses.

Talent Wars in the great resignation

Most of the people that are resigning are part of highly skilled professions and sought after skills. Due to the move away from high-stress positions, we’re seeing a rise in what Al Jazeera calls talent wars. For example, there has been a big increase in IT/Software developer specialists. This is driving up salaries more than 100% in some cases!

Employers now need to decide how do they offer not only the best salaries but also better working conditions (stress, workload and overtime) to attract top talent.

What now?

If you’re an employee that’s in a high-stress job, you get to decide where you want to work – and if you want to start a side hustle with the aim to quit your job. You are in control of your own life and can decide if the toll on your mental health is worth it.

If you’re happy in your job, make sure to speak to your employer about spreading employee knowledge evenly. This will avoid the scenario of a colleague leaving and piling work on you that you’re not familiar with.

If you’re an employer, you need to make sure that you diversify your risk by training multiple employees to do the same job. This is especially important for highly skilled professions. A great way to do this is to rotate people in your team so that everyone understands what the other is doing. It’s also important to gauge the mental health of your employees – check in regularly to see if they’re okay.


Whether you’re an employee or an employer, the great resignation will affect you – either now or in the future.

We know that the days of receiving the gold watch after 45 years of dedicated service is over. Employees are starting to look after themselves and their own mental health.

If you’re resigning – good luck on your next venture!

If you are handed a resignation letter – it’s important to make sure the business will survive. To minimise the risk of a single employee having too much business knowledge, create an environment where cross-skilling is part of their KPIs.

Happy investing!