Opinions | Digital Transformation

The Great Resignation: Exploring The Cultural Shifts That Brought It

Alishea Sunil
February 24, 2022

Here’s a phrase you might have heard of recently, The Great Resignation. A phrase thats often accompanied by a scary statistic of 4.4 million American employees voluntarily resigning from their jobs in September 2021. It sounds scary at first because “people losing their jobs” is worrying to hear, but people actually choosing to leave their jobs can be considered insane or unwise especially in the pandemic-economic crisis. 

So if people aren’t being fired at alarming rates, why are so many employees choosing to quit? The reasons for this trend are quite varied. The phrase lends an anti-work sentiment to it, but people are merely reconfiguring their careers and lifestyle; to search for better opportunities, higher pay or a better work-life balance after experiencing burnout. It should have been called The Great Switch, but you can blame Management Professor Anthony Klotz for that mis-term. The best we’ve heard is the Turnover Tsunami. 

Back to business. So… what’s causing this influx in career shifting? 

Low Salaries

This movement is mainly about in-person and traditionally low-wage workers switching to better higher-paying jobs which usually involves self-employment. The industries that took the hardest hit were leisure and hospitality which includes restaurants, hotels, and retail. 


It appears workers are finding their agency to choose, and they are willing to leave their low-paying jobs for something better. Interestingly, the Tsunami Turnover created 1 out of every 3 net new jobs in 2021. What are those jobs? Well, jobs that allow you to work anywhere and at hours of your choosing. 

It’s Not Just About Pay

There’s been several reports from American workers on how pandemic working conditions finally drove them out of jobs they would otherwise have stayed in. However, workplaces or corporate culture has not always looked out for all employees. 

The past five years have opened our eyes to the injustices women and minorities face in the workplace. Moreover, we’ve become more aware and careful about our mental health. Our parents used to tell us that we should find a good job and endure the hard work to make a good living; but being micromanaged and disrespected is not “enduring the hard work.”

Along with poor treatment and/or unethical behavior, many have found their employer’s failure in promoting and including diversity, and recognizing performance. As much as it is about compensation, it is also about feeling seen and valued when you do excellent work. Being in this situation could make you feel like being your own boss? Not just to grasp autonomy but to also utilize your value. 

As we become more aware and careful of our mental health, we become increasingly aware of burnout. Remember Klotz? He predicted the Great Resignation was coming due to employee burnout. The 9 to 5 and five day work week has lost its charm, and it's a mirage as employees really end up working till 8pm and on Saturday afternoons. Which is why they want flexibility. Nay, they deserve it. It benefits everything in the long run. 

The Desire For Flexibility & Remote Work

In 2020, a whopping 67.6 million Americans were freelancing, according to Statista, up from 57.3 million in 2017. We’ve seen that these workers resigned to become freelancers in search of better pay and a better work-life balance; and they are enabled by the growing gig economy and the Industrial Revolution 4.0. The Gig Economy is a freelance economy, in which workers support themselves with a variety of part-time jobs. (or freelance jobs)

Digitalization has opened doors to freelancers from all over the world. The talent pool has expanded tremendously, making it less competitive and not limited to geography. A Malaysian SME can work with a talent copywriter from Amsterdam to scale their business, with the added advantage of not having to employ individuals with these skill sets on a long term basis. On the freelancer’s side, they’d get to pick where they work, when they work and for how long. 

This Sounds Great! Can I Do This In Malaysia?

A study by the human resources and people management platform found that 61% of Malaysian workers plan to find a new job this year, with younger employees aged 35 and under among the most prepared to move on from their current workplaces. Disliking their job wasn't a top reason for wanting to shift careers while work flexibility remains an important factor. The EY 2021 Work Reimagined Employee Survey found that 9 in 10 Malaysians want flexibility in where and when they work.

Worrying data from the Higher Education ministry show that at least 10% of fresh Malaysian graduates with degrees have been getting a monthly income of between RM1,001 and RM1,500 since at least 2010. The average monthly salary for Malaysians for the year 2020 is RM2,933 while the median is RM2,060. For perspective, absolute poverty in Malaysia was defined as a household monthly income of RM2,208 in 2019. These low wages could lead to a Great Resignation in Malaysia. 

According to Syed Hussain, the main reasons for the lower turnover rate (aka Turnover Tsunami) is the economic uncertainty posed by Covid-19 and high unemployment which sounds very discouraging. However, the gig economy is expected to continue to grow in 2021, as people who lost their jobs due to the pandemic are turning to digital platforms to make a living. The government has even identified the gig economy as a new source of economic growth which would be made part of the 12th Malaysia Plan 2021-2025, further contributing to the gross domestic product (GDP) of the country. The changing market and consumer demands is one of the push factors in accelerating growth of the gig economy, which in turn attracts more giggers so look out for that!

Alishea Sunil


She is a wide-eyed dreamer with a keen interest in photography and rock legends. She's a passionate creator who probably cannot survive outside her home. She is a house cat with a Stevie Nicks addiction.