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Quitting in the Time of COVID

Assistant Professor Lee Zeewan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy discusses the Great Resignation phenomenon, its drivers and possible remedy strategies.

It has been two years since the outbreak of Covid-19. As the pandemic ploughed its way through the world, it has brought radical changes in the labour market. One of the most baffling phenomena it had ignited is workers’ mass exodus from the labour market, known as the ‘Great Resignation’.

Initially, the mass departures started in the United States, with almost 3 per cent of the nation’s labour force quitting their jobs in September 2021 (4.3 million in Sept., 24 million March-Sept.), according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many Asian countries and European countries such as Germany, China, and Japan are seeing similar trends. China is experiencing the rise of the ‘lie flat’ movement, where workers protested against the 9am-to-9pm work schedules. In the 2021 Work Trend Index report from Microsoft, it surveyed over 30,000 workers around the globe and found that 46 per cent are planning to quit or switch jobs.1

It gets more puzzling if we chart the phenomenon along with the overall positive macroeconomic trends of these nations. For instance, despite the Delta variant outbreak, the EU Commission raised its growth projections for 2021 from 4.3 to 4.8 per cent. The stock markets continued to show positive growths. In the US, at the start of the third quarter in 2021, the country reported the best job creation rate since March 2020, with 943,000 new jobs created. The only thing missing from the positive outlook of these countries is people willing to work. Why are so many people quitting?

Learn more in the original article, that was originally published at

1 Microsoft Worklab,” The Next Great Disruption Is Hybrid Work—Are We Ready?” Microsoft,



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