Employment 2024: the ‘Big Stay’ movement

Contentment with a shifted work dynamic - or fear at the screaming winds of economic turbulence? What's fueling the Big Stay?
19 January 2024

Matching jobseekers with employers in Cambodia” by ILO in Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

  • The pandemic’s Great Resignation has slowed.
  • Employees stay put for the Big Stay.
  • Economic outlook means the risks are too high to jump ship. 

The Covid-19 pandemic changed all aspects of life for the vast majority, but one of the most profound impacts was on how we work. While many had to adopt a remote routine, the pandemic marked a pivot point for the careers of millions. Remote and hybrid work became, if not normal, then at least a possibility, and the ‘Great Resignation’ saw an unprecedented number of workers leaving their jobs to pursue other avenues. 

This trend continued through 2022, albeit at a reduced level, and it seems the tide is changing further. Economists are witnessing a shift as workers with itchy feet are more prepared to bide their time for better roles, instead of resigning with no concrete plans.

It seems it’s time for the Great Resignation to give way to the ‘Big Stay.’

The Great Resignation slows

The Great Resignation forced many organizations to adjust their work environments to retain employees, ensuring they became healthier, more positive places to work. After a mass migration of talent, workplace satisfaction and stability became a priority for all businesses. Many viewed the period as an evolution fuelled by economic uncertainty and a latent need for more flexible working arrangements. Now, companies strive to create people-first cultures, partly as a result of the cost of staff turnover, and the ensuing better places to work seem to be a significant factor contributing to the Big Stay.

Yet despite this apparent trend, 2023 saw large swathes of resignations, too. It is estimated that workers resigned from around 50 million jobs last year. While this is the highest number since tracking began in 2000, the overall quit rate has been falling since the height of the pandemic. The percentage of workers quitting their jobs was 5% lower in the first three months of 2023 compared to the last three months of 2022. Compared to the quit rate of the first three months of 2022, the percentage of employees leaving a job was down 10%. 

One reason why we could be entering an era of employee retention is that labor markets are slowly getting back to their pre-pandemic levels. Many workers who switched jobs during the pandemic enjoyed large increases in pay, with the peak of pay increases at 16.4% in June 2022. In April 2023, pay gains for those switching jobs decreased to 13.2%, marking the lowest growth since November 2021.

Currently, there seems to be a trend of workers biding their time for better opportunities to arise or deciding on staying with the same employer. Employees who were previously a part of the Great Resignation have since settled into new roles and are looking for long-term benefits. Perhaps the regular job changes we have witnessed for three years are coming to an end. Over the last year, workers have been prioritizing work-life balance, job stability, and meaningful employment instead of pursuing higher salaries and fresh opportunities.

Economic instability

Throughout this discussion, the elephant in the room, and a fact that simply can’t be ignored when considering employment trends, is economic instability. Rising interest rates lead to higher costs, so workers are increasingly reluctant to risk their current employment for the unknown. Not only that, but various conflicts and geopolitical tensions have resulted in increased wariness, with economists predicting instability to continue for some time. And instability means less risk-taking by company owners and boards of directors, so fewer new roles are on the table.

Illustration of article about evolution from Great Resignation

“Matching jobseekers with employers in Lao PDR” by ILO in Asia and the Pacific is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

While the global outlook is unpredictable, workers are playing it safe and maintaining stable positions. For both employers and employees, it’s a matter of choosing certainty over risk in an unpredictable future.

The disgruntled worker

A recent EY survey found that 34% of workers would like to leave their jobs in the next three months. That seemingly high figure should be taken in context: in 2022, the percentage unhappy enough to want to leave was 43%. 

The Great Resignation made it clear what employees want from their careers. The Big Stay may be caused by employers improving conditions to keep workers on board. Or have things changed so little that it’s the economic downturn that’s keeping people at their desks? Companies have certainly been listening to their employees’ wants and needs, but if they want to avoid another surge of mass resignations in the rosier times we hope are around the corner, organizations will have to persist in addressing their workers’ expectations.