Updated: Nov 18, 2021
Editor’s Note: Dr. Chip Roper, Founder and President of the VOCA Center, was featured as a guest writer for the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work. This piece was originally published at nifw.org.
Everybody seems to be quitting their job or thinking about it. If you are content where you are, it can feel like you’re missing something. You are not imagining this. Every month, 3 to 4 million people are quitting their jobs. It’s called the “Great Resignation.” All the pent up fear of the early pandemic has given way to the quest for greener pastures.
In this piece, we will explore the “why” behind the Great Resignation and explore God’s wisdom for the dilemma it presents.
THE THREE "WHYS” BEHIND THE 'GREAT RESIGNATION’
There are three primary factors driving the Great Resignation.
FACTOR #1: NEW OPPORTUNITIES ARE RELEASING PENT UP DEMAND FOR CHANGE
As Yasmin Tayag points out in Fortune, we should not be surprised that record numbers of people are changing their jobs. As professional career coaches, our team at VOCA Center is aware that at any given time, 50% of workers would change jobs if given the opportunity. Like many other trends in Western society, the pandemic has accelerated or intensified forces that were already in motion.
As soon as the economy started to recover by the end of June 2020—as soon as people realized, “I’m not losing my job and can start thinking about the future”—resignations picked up. Now, we find there are regularly more job openings than qualified workers. It’s a sellers market for workers. “I wanted to leave and now I can.” That’s the assumption of many during the Great Resignation.
FACTOR #2: CHANGING JOBS IS A COMMON REACTION TO SHOCK
In the management literature about why employees quit, a surprising trend emerges. “Shocks” have greater predictive power in identifying likely exits than any other single factor. In a 2005 study on employee turnover, three researchers wrote:
Examples of shocks include unsolicited job offers, changes in marital status, transfers or mergers. A shock to the system is a distinguishable event that jars an employee toward deliberate judgements about his/her job and may lead the employee to voluntarily quit. A shock is an event that generates information or provides meaning about a person's job and then is interpreted and integrated into the person's system of beliefs and images. As such it is sufficiently jarring that it cannot be ignored.
In this case, the pandemic has created multiple shocks for everyone all at once. Many shifted to remote work, to new safety procedures for in-person work, to new ways of meeting and connecting. All of us have observed how well our bosses and organizations dealt with acute crises. Many of us have been forced to ask: Is the way I’m working sustainable?
FACTOR #3: SHIFTS IN THE FACTORS THAT KEEP US IN A JOB
There are six factors researchers have identified that keep us in a job. Three have to do with the job itself, and three have to do with the community in which we live in order to do the job.
The pandemic has shifted these six factors in many cases. Links and fit may have increased or declined, depending on whether one thrives in work from home. With the war for talent heating up, the costs of leaving a job are often going down.
On the community side, there is much change. Suburbs and vacation locations boomed while cities emptied. Many people spent much more time with their families. Do we want to go back to the old normal or build a new one?
These three factors—the release of pent up demand, the fall out from the pandemic shock, and the shifts COVID-19 has created in the forces that keep us in a job—mean many of us feel determined to find work that better matches our ambitions and lifestyles. What are Christ followers to make of this vocational upheaval?
GOD’S WISDOM FOR THE GREAT RESIGNATION
Most of us drift towards two reactions in times of vocational upheaval. Option one is to go along with the crowd, brush up on our résumé and start looking for other jobs. The other tendency is to fall into despair because the Great Resignation is yet another life upheaval on the heels of the pandemic.
Friends are moving away, colleagues are leaving, work and life are constantly changing. It’s exhausting and we can be discouraged by the fact that life will not be returning to normal any time soon, despite our collective weariness.
How does God meet us in this tension?
God provides divine insight for our times in three forms:
Optimism grounded in His sovereignty,
Leadership beyond the wind and tide of the present,
A call to wisdom rather than fear or rash action.
The Scriptures introduce us to a God who is in control. Throughout Scripture, we see that God’s plan moved forward through times of upheaval.
Think of Jacob and his family going to Egypt, saved from the immediate famine and grown into a mighty people. Think of the saints chased out of Jerusalem (Acts 8)—it led to the advance of the Gospel all over the region. Think of Priscilla and Aquila driven from Rome by an imperial edict—positioning them to be critical partners with Paul in the spread of the Kingdom message.
In the U.S. we tend to equate staying and stability with blessing and success. But God can work through uncertainty and disruption just as well. We can exhale and feel genuine optimism that His purposes for our world, society, and selves will be fulfilled even in the face of intense change.
Isaiah 46:9-10 speaks to the sovereignty of God:
I am God, and there is none like me,
declaring the end from the beginning'
and from ancient times things not yet done,
saying, ‘My counsel shall stand,
and I will accomplish all my purpose.’
LEADERSHIP BEYOND PRESENT CIRCUMSTANCES
Jesus offers us much more than a role model or even a ticket to heaven. He offers us leadership in our lives now.
Paul writes to the church at Rome: For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord (Romans 14:7-8).
Too much of our deliberations about work are self-referential. “What you want to do” is important, but it is not the most important factor. In the math of the Apostles, we belong to Jesus because He bought us with a price. This invites us to shift our thinking from “What should I do?” to “What does my trustworthy leader want me to do?”
Whether God’s calling for you is stay, leave, or explore, it is His job to lead. Exhale. Relax. You are not an isolated wanderer trying to figure it out on your own, but a servant of the loving powerful King, who will guide your steps if you let Him.
WISDOM FOR OUR DISCERNMENT
Knowing what you should do during the Great Resignation is not a moral, ethical, or theological question per se. It is a wisdom question, and wisdom is practical. Wisdom asks, “Based on what I know of God's character and plans for the world, what is the best course of action for me to pursue?”
During the Great Resignation, this boils down to the following alternatives: Is it wisest to avoid danger by leaving, or is the wiser choice to reap the fruit of diligence and stay?
When Staying is Dangerous
As Proverbs 27:12 states, “The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”
Maybe it is dangerous to stay in your current role and your current organization. There are many reasons this could be—perhaps the organization is in decline because of industry shifts or poor leadership. Maybe you have maxed out what you can contribute there. Perhaps the demands of this company/industry run contrary to your clarified values and faith commitments.
The fact that you can leave is a chance to gain your freedom (See 1 Corinthians 7:21). You’ve done your homework. You have validated your assumptions. You have confirmed from real evidence that you can make a better contribution elsewhere. If that's the case, wisdom says it's dangerous to stay. But this of course is not always the case!
When Diligence is the Wise Choice
Sometimes our haste to get ahead and find something better is the real block to landing in a place where we can make our best contribution. With all the buzz about changing jobs, we could miss God’s wisest path for us.
As Proverbs 21:5 tells us, “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
Think of Daniel’s diligence in his Prime Minister role even when his boss lost his mind and took a seven-year sabbatical (See Daniel 4). Daniel ran the kingdom and he was diligent when the whole enterprise was falling apart.
Similarly, several of my friends were able to grow as leaders and advance in their influence precisely because they were the people who stayed and rebuilt the ruins after others left. Godly wisdom teaches us that running for the exit too quickly can at times be foolish.
RESTING IN GOD’S OWNERSHIP
If you want to maintain your sanity and focus during The Great Resignation, there is a truth that can anchor you and provide a place to rest. It is the idea that you and I are ultimately God’s servants, which means that we are not ultimately responsible for forging our paths; we are just responsible for listening to God’s leading.
Listen to what Paul wrote to people he called “bondservants.” These were women and men who, through indebtedness, became enslaved to another to pay off their debts. This is what he says:
Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men (1 Cor. 7:21-23).
Apart from understanding God’s sovereignty, our ability to choose can feel overwhelming when the options are plenty. He who has bought you with a price will not abandon you now.
It is God who directs our steps (Proverbs 16:9). It is God who has prepared good works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). When the road ahead seems dark, it is God’s Word that lights our path (Psalm 119:105). We do not travel these dimly lit roads of vocational uncertainty by ourselves.
Whether you are firmly planted where you are or actively looking for work, God cares intimately about your career. Ultimately, God has a plan for your career. Seek Him and embrace His wisdom, and you will have a great strategy to navigate the Great Resignation.
Looking for further help on deciding whether to stay in your current role or look elsewhere? Download “Should I Quit My Job?”, a free guide courtesy of the VOCA Center.