Early in my career, a friend and mentor shared sage advice with me. When you begin exploring other job or career opportunities, be certain you are running toward the new opportunity and not away from your current situation. Since then, I’ve always approached career growth and transition with intention, asking myself: Will this new opportunity fulfill me? Will I be challenged? Will it teach me something I want, should, or need to know?
The current working climate, shaped by technology, generational differences, and the global pandemic, has caused staggering numbers of individuals to evaluate their current working conditions. Because it has resulted in so many choosing to leave their jobs and organizations, this phenomenon has been coined the Great Resignation (aka the Big Quit, Great Reprioritization, Extraordinary Exodus, Great Renegotiation … you get the idea!).
So, why are people quitting their jobs? In my experience, individuals make career decisions based on two primary drivers: empowerment and burnout.
“Now is the time for me to make a bold move. I’ve worked hard, and I deserve this. I’m ready!”
Individuals who feel empowered tend to be running toward a new opportunity. They may be experiencing a heightened sense of self-worth and confidence. Psychological empowerment represents intrinsic task motivation that reflects a sense of self-control and active involvement in one’s work. People who feel empowered feel in control of their career destiny. The feeling of control can lead to intentional action.
I was recently speaking with a senior executive of a Fortune 100 company who made the decision to trade her six-figure salary for a career as an artist. She began painting during the pandemic and realized that life was just too short to spend it doing something that made her only marginally happy.
“I’m overwhelmed. I can no longer do this! There has to be something better out there for me!”
Individuals experiencing burnout are likely feeling exhaustion and frustration, causing them to run from their current situations and seek solace in new jobs or organizations. Running from (versus toward) a job could lead to a poor employment decision. Individuals with the “grass is always greener” mentality may move quickly into new jobs that fulfill some basic needs but may not fit well long-term.
In a recent blog, my Hogan colleagues defined burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Further, they point out that people who experience burnout are not typically poor performers but instead those who were once highly engaged in the organization.
I’ve had many conversations in the past year with leaders who feel stuck. Burnout is not just an employee problem; it is an organizational problem. Research shows that individuals experiencing burnout are more likely to take a sick day, have lower confidence in their performance, be less productive, and actively seek new job opportunities.
What Can We Learn from Personality?
Psychological empowerment has not been examined extensively with respect to personality, but a few hypotheses can be made. Previous research has demonstrated a link between feelings of empowerment and two of the Big Five dimensions, extraversion and conscientiousness. This means that individuals who are described as confident, engaging, driven, and communicative tend to be optimistic about their work and therefore may feel more empowered. Additionally, individuals who work hard, are dependable and capable, and plan work in advance may be more comfortable seeking out new opportunities.
There has been more research (due to the current climate and interest) on the relationship between personality and burnout. Research using Hogan’s three measures of personality — Hogan Personality Inventory (HPI), Hogan Development Survey (HDS), and Motives, Values, and Preferences Inventory (MVPI) — has demonstrated a link between personality and burnout. Most notably, individuals who tend to be stress prone and prefer to follow others (versus desiring leadership roles) may be more susceptible to burnout. Additionally, burnout is more common among individuals who are task oriented, have greater concern for productivity (rather than a concern for people), and are more independent.
In summary, the two primary drivers for the Great Resignation are feelings of empowerment and burnout. Now that we’ve explored what may be driving people to seek other opportunities and how personality may shed light on the drivers, we can better plan for a response. In Part 2, we will explore what organizations can do to retain talent and what individuals can do to find meaning in their work.
This blog post was authored by Erin Crane, PhD, international distributors principal consultant. Click here to register for her upcoming webinar, “What’s Driving the Big Quit? A Look at Personality in the Workplace,” on Thursday, April 7.
- Burn-out an “Occupational Phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases. (2019, May 28). World Health Organization. https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2022, January 4). Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary – November 2021 [Press release]. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/archives/jolts_01042022.pdf
- Bersin, J., Enderes, K., Mertens, J., & Nangia, N. (2021, December). HR Predictions for 2022. The Josh Bersin Company. https://joshbersin.com/hr-predictions-for-2022/
- Spreitzer, G. M. (1995). Psychological Empowerment in the Workplace: Dimensions, Measurement, and Validation. Academy of Management Journal, 38(5), 1442-1465. doi.org/10.5465/256865
- Yazdi, A. M., & Mustamil, N. (2015). Empowerment Potential: Big-Five Personality Traits and Psychological Empowerment. International Business and Management, 11(3), 62-66. doi.org/10.3968/7938