The Impact of the “5 Great R’s” on the Labor Shortage 

Excerpted from The Empathy Advantage: Leading the Empowered Workforce by Heather E. McGowan and Chris Shipley. Copyright © 2023 by John Wiley & Sons. All rights reserved. This book is available wherever books and e-books are sold. 



THE GREAT RESET is a convergence of employment trends that has been decades in the making—culminating in a changed relationship between employers and the workforce. The American workforce is no longer centered on where they work, but where work fits into their lives. It is the shift from work-life balance to life-work balance.  


Employers must acknowledge that the workforce now plays by a different set of rules. The labor pool is motivated by a set of factors which answer the question, “where did all the workers go?”  


  1. The Great Resignation

Posited first by Professor Anthony Klotz in a May 2021 interview in Bloomberg, it was initially thought to be a short-term phenomenon triggered by the pandemic when the nation’s quit rate hit a 20-year high. In reality, churn has been building since 2009, and Gartner predicts churn will increase 20% over pre-pandemic levels.  


  1. The Great Retirement 

The Great Retirement has been long in coming as the baby boomer generation moves into retirement. Although we knew this was coming, employers were still caught flat-footed as the pandemic created the conditions for droves of boomers to leave the workforce sooner than even they may have expected. Economists believe the resulting labor shortages due to retirements will continue for at least a decade. 


  1. The Great Reshuffle 

The Great Reshuffle is occurring as people have reskilled and switched industries during the pandemic. Of those who changed jobs in 2021, more than half changed careers entirely, according to Pew Research. While this reshuffle has left many industries scrambling for workers, the positive news is that many of these reskilled workers are now working in fields of greater interest to them and are more committed to their careers.  


  1. The Great Refusal 

The Great Refusal took hold as people turned down bad jobs with low pay. The Reddit thread on “r/antiwork” is a showcase of workplace travesties that are leading workers to walk away from bad jobs. And today’s federal minimum wage certainly falls well short of an incentive to make dehumanizing work worth it. Until 1968, the minimum wage kept pace with inflation and rose with productivity. If the minimum wage had continued that trajectory, it would be over $21 an hour today, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. But it hasn’t. The minimum wage hasn’t budged in a decade.  



Employers must shift their belief that workers are assets to develop, not costs to contain!  

Many sectors of our economy are seeing higher-than-average labor shortages as workers reject these underpaying jobs. And here’s another incentive to better engage your workers: Customers experience your brand through interaction with your frontline workers. Engaged workers are better brand ambassadors who deliver better customer service which equals customers coming back to you to do business!  


  1. The Great Relocation: 

Fueled by the shift to remote work, the Great Relocation is allowing workers to pick where they want to live, rather than live near work. The pandemic period of 2020–2022 saw the initial wave of relocations, as many people left large cities for more space to social distance. Now as the location and flexibility of jobs have become clearer and people prioritize work and life differently, more than 19 million adults are now looking to relocate due to the availability of remote work, according to findings from Upwork. 



This is the crux of the Great Reset: Employees are shifting from work-life balance to life-work balance. 

Collectively, these shifts are the Great Reset, with an empowered workforce that has tasted autonomy and flexibility. This is the new workforce standard, and there is no putting this genie back in the bottle. Gallup’s employee engagement numbers have not moved more than 10 points over 20 years. In the United States, engagement sits at 32% and rests at 21% globally. More worrisome, Gallup finds that global unhappiness is the highest ever recorded; 33% of people report being pretty much miserable. Baseball batting averages are better than this. Let’s hope that an empowered workforce that puts work in the proper place in their lives is the key to better engagement and greater happiness. Recognizing and adapting to the impact of the 5 R’s is the new key to recruiting and retaining workers.