Quality of Life, or Quality of Work?
The Great Resignation in Ontario
Table of Content
- Report Summary
- How “Great” was it?
- What Can the LFS Tell Us about the Great Resignation?
- Total Workflorce
- Job Leaavers
- Digging Further into LFS Data
- Demographic Data
- Overall, What does the LFS Tell us?
Quality of Life, or Quality of Work? The Great Resignation in Ontario
The Great Resignation is a phrase that describes record numbers of people leaving their jobs during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. Many labour market observers see the Great Resignation as a once-in-a- generation change to the way workers find a better work-life balance. Indeed, the Great Resignation is viewed by many as one of the major factors behind our ongoing labour shortages. While the Great Resignation remains an ongoing narrative, recently some U.S. studies have cast doubt on the nature and depth of the Great Resignation.
This paper, using Canadian Labour Force Survey (LFS) data, seeks to determine whether the phenomenon occurred in Ontario. Our work indicates that:
- The pandemic caused serious turbulence in the labour The tsunami of layoffs, followed by waves of mass hirings created noisy workforce data.
- While there were lots of stories and articles about employees dropping out of the workforce to find better work-life balance, the plurality of anecdote is not The number of people leaving jobs has not really increased except from retirement, which was an inevitability given Ontario’s aging population.
- The LFS shows that the provincial employment situation and context remain remarkably similar to the pre-COVID situation. Pre, during and post pandemic LFS data indicate that Ontarians
How “Great” was it?
“And I just quit my job /
I’ m gonna find new drive /
Damn they work me so damn hard /
Work by nine / Then off past five /
And they work my nerves /
That’s why I cannot sleep at night.”
–Break my Soul, Beyoncé
The coining of the term Great Resignation is attributed to Anthony Klotz who used the phrase in a short article for Bloomberg news in May 2021. Klotz, an organizational psychologist at Texas A&M University, predicted that the pandemic would make a significant number of American workers reevaluate what they are actually getting out of their jobs. Klotz based his theory on four observations: pent-up resignations from the first year of the pandemic; mass burnout among workers on the front lines; a reprioritization of life priorities when confronted by a deadly pandemic; and the freedom that came with working from home. Klotz predicted a Great Resignation before it was apparent in any labour market data. In subsequent months, when the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a record number of Americans had quit their jobs, the term became (and remains) an embedded narrative about the Pandemic’s long-term impact on worker behaviour. While first applied to the
U.S. labour market in 2021, within the next 12 months, commentators across the globe saw signs of the Great Resignation in the UK, Australia, and France. Countries like Germany, Singapore, and Canada conducted various surveys that indicated workers there were reevaluating work/life priorities and had a general dissatisfaction with working conditions, uninspiring jobs, and corporate culture.
By the time Beyoncé dropped her seventh studio album Renaissance in the summer of 2022, the phrase Great Resignation had leapt from being a labour market buzz word into pop culture. Indeed, Beyonce’s song Break My Soul was heralded as an anti-work anthem for the Great Resignation by a diverse array of voices ranging from music fans to Forbes. As the number of resignations in the U.S. continued to set records through spring 2022, the topic of the Great Resignation became part of the pandemic story. Indeed, in April of 2022 the Human Resource Professional Association of Canada indicated that the Great Resignation wasn’t just a 2021 phenomenon, but was likely to get worse (“Is the Great Resignation Over? Not Even Close”). They noted: “What’s unfolding is not just the Great Resignation (the symptom) but the Great Prioritization (the cause). Simply put, people are putting a greater focus on well-being, health (physical, social and mental), family (childcare and/ or aging parents) and other hobbies and interests – and by extension, taking the time to consider who they work for, how they work, and why they work.” (Seghal, April 6, 2022)
As economists began to examine the labour force data in detail, additional light was cast on the possible cause(s) and nature of the Great Resignation. Fuller and Kerr in the Harvard Business Review indicated that Covid-19 accelerated several existing labour market trends and wasn’t just short- term turbulence provoked by the pandemic. Instead, they saw increasing worker quits as a continuation of an existing trend of rising quit rates. They attributed these quits to an aging workforce; reconsideration of life priorities; reshuffling (moving to different jobs in the same or between sectors—instead of completely leaving the labor market); and the caregiving of aging parents. Fuller and Kerr conclude that the Great Resignation was no anomaly, and that the forces underlying it are here to stay.
“I’m an organizational psychologist, not an economist, so I have no business making labor market predictions. And if I was an economist, I’d be annoyed at me for doing so.”
–Anthony Klotz, Psychologist
What can the Labour Force Survey (LFS) tell us about the Great Resignation?
Since 1976, Statistics Canada has been collecting data every month for a selected sample of individuals from across Canada (primarily provinces) on a rotating six-month basis. An individual is surveyed for six months with roughly one-sixth of the full sample being replaced every month. The survey collects demographic information and current employment status. For those not working or no longer working or temporarily not working, additional information on status and reasons and other activities is collected. Specific information on “job leavers” is also collected.
The data presented below is all from the LFS (summary files or public use micro data) and is for all of Ontario. When appropriate, Statistics Canada has provided the sample weights used to develop full population estimates and shares from the stratified samples.
First, let’s consider the composition of the workforce and total working age population (for this analysis those 25 and older are considered to avoid complications from those attending a post-secondary school).
Table 1 : Population of Ontario (2022)
*to the nearest hundred
|Total: Labour Force||7,028,800|
|Not in the Labour Force||3,631,500|
|Total: Working Age Population||10,660,300|
Chart 1 shows the share of Ontario’s working-age population Not in Labour Force, Employed, and Unemployed over time. With some fluctuation in unemployment, over the 47 years (1976-2022) the shares have remained fairly steady with roughly one-third (33%) not in the labour force, 63% employed and 4% unemployed.
Table 3 below shows the average of the share of workers in each year by the reason reported from 1976 to 2022 and 2020-2022. The shares vary across the years and over time. The most noticeable is the increase in retirement with corresponding decreases in the other reasons.
Table 3: Reason for Leaving Job, Then & Now
|Reason for Leaving Job||Average (1976–2022)||Average (2020–2022)|
|Own Illness or Disability||16.5%||15.5%|
|Personal or Family Reasons||16.3%||13.5%|
|Going to School||9.7%||10.3%|
In 1976, retirement was cited by 18.3% of job leavers, while in 2022, 40.4% reported they left their job due to retirement.
Chart 3: Ontario: Job Leavers, Not including Retirement (1976–2022)
If just looking at the shares of job leavers with retirements excluded (Chart 3), Illness or Disability has remained flat while Going to School and Dissatisfied have seen slight increases with Personal/Family Reasons and Other slightly decreasing.
Chart 4: Ontario: Job Leavers (1976–2022)
Chart 5: Ontario: Job Leavers (2010–2022)
The charts do not show an increase in people leaving jobs from dissatisfaction (maybe with a bump from 2021 to 2022, but at 21.3% the share is lower than some other years in 2010-2022 and several other years in 1976-2022 with a maximum of 22.4% in 2000).
Again, the Labour Force Survey data does not show evidence of individuals leaving jobs for different reasons than they have been leaving jobs previously.
It is possible that during the worst of the global pandemic individuals were leaving jobs for personal health and safety reasons to avoid exposure risk that they wouldn’t necessarily characterize as an Illness or Disability, but that is conjecture. Whatever the case, while “Other” spiked in 2020, it returned to average within 2 years.
Chart 6: Ontario: Job Leavers, Less Restirement (2010–2022)
Over the past 13 years (2010-2022; Chart 6), Retirement has grown while the other reasons have remained relatively flat with Retirement excluded. However, 2020 shows a significant spike in the number of people reporting that they left their job for “Other” reasons. This is difficult to divine, other than noting that it, by definition, does not include any of the other reasons listed (illness, retirement, etc.). And after peaking at 21.4% among all reasons, it dropped to 17.6% in 2021 and dropped further to 10.0% in 2022, which is lower than for the 47-year (17.1%) or 13-year (13.2%) averages.
Digging Further into the Labour Force Survey (LFS) Data
Although, so far, the LFS hasn’t really produced any evidence of a Great Resignation (or even an “not- so-great resignation” for that matter), additional investigation is possible.
As mentioned, the LFS uses a six-month panel approach where individuals are surveyed for six months in a row. To maximize the usefulness of the public micro data available, individual responses were pulled from January, July, January so that three complete sets of individuals are included without being repeated. Because only a small portion of the sample will have recently left a job, the aggregation will decrease the amount of noise and increase the reliability of the results. Additionally, the workforce and “job leaver” data analyzed so far supports the contention that the most recent 13-month period (Jan 2022, Jul 2022, Jan 2023) can be compared with an earlier 13-month period (Jan 2019, Jul 2019, Jan 2020) that can be used as a pre-COVID “baseline” to determine if any underlying conditions or situations have changed with regard to those who have left their jobs and their reasons. In addition, by keeping to the same months, any seasonal effects will “net out” in the comparisons.
Again, all comparisons are done only using results for the province of Ontario. This data will compare data from Jan 2019, Jul 2019, Jan 2020 (19/20) with data from Jan 2022, Jul 2022, Jan 2023 (22/23).
The Public Use Micro Data for the LFS has one record per person. Individuals who are not currently employed are asked if they have ever worked. The responses are coded to indicate if the person worked in the last year or more than a year ago or has never worked. For this analysis, those not working but who have worked previously are the population of interest. These are individuals who have been in the workforce previously but are not currently. It is not strictly those who have voluntarily left a job but includes those who may have lost a job and have chosen not to return to work.
Detailed tables for everything discussed below are available. (Additional detailed data is available on request.) Below is just the summary of what these tables show. For each of these variables the following have been calculated and are compared:
- Average/Share for total population 19/20
- Average/Share for not working but worked 19/20
- Average/Share for total population 22/23
- Average/Share for not working but worked 22/23
This allows for the following comparisons:
- What are the baseline (19/20) differences between the full population and the not working but worked population? In essence, what are the typical differences between currently working and currently not working?
- What are the differences for 22/23 between the working and the not working but worked?
- How do these differences compare? Have the underlying situations changed since 19/20? In effect, this is looking for a systemic change – something that would support the notion of a persistent Great Resignation or at least some other major change in the way individuals approach the decision to leave and the revealed preferences in employment (or not)
In general, differences between working and not working
- If landed 10 years or less, much more likely to be working
- If landed more than 10 years ago, more likely to be not working
- If not an immigrant, little difference
- The results for 2022/2023 are consistent with the result for 2019/2020
Industry (of job last worked or current job):
Not a lot of difference in likelihood of working or not working based on industry
- Some industries show greater churn with a greater likelihood of not working if working in: Construction, Retail, Information/ Culture, Education Services, Accommodation/Food Services
- Some industries show “anti-churn” (greater stability) with a greater likelihood of working if in: Finance/Insurance, Professional et Services, Healthcare
- The results for 22/23 are very similar to the results from 19/20 with two notable exceptions:
- Construction does not show the same churn in 22/23. Those in construction are equally likely to be working or not while in 19/20 they were more likely to be not working.
- Accommodation/Food Services jobs greatly increased their level of churn in 22/23. In both periods, these jobs were more likely to have people not working, but in 22/23 the likelihood of working went down while the likelihood of not working went up.
Occupation (of job last worked or current job):
- Not a lot of difference in likelihood of working or not based on
- In 19/20 the likelihood of not working was higher for those working in Trades and Transportation jobs. By 22/23, the likelihood of not working was equal to the likelihood of This was also reflected in the industry results for Construction and so supports the contention that in the recent timeframe, Trades work is more stable.
Flows into Unemployment
- 2019/2020, Job Leavers accounted for 10% of all those currently without employment.
- In 2022/2023, Job Leavers accounted for 6% of all those currently without employment.
- In comparison to the baseline, the number of people without employment who were that way because they left a job, decreased.
The table below shows the average of the share of workers by their reason for leaving their job as reported between 2019–2020 and 2022–2023.
Table 4(A): Reason for Leaving Job During the Previous Year
|Reason||Average (2019/2020)||Average (2022/2023)|
|Caring for Children||1.4%||1.3%|
|Going to School||24.6%||18.0%|
|Business Sold/Closed Down (Self-Employed)||1.1%||0.8%|
The table below shows the average of the share of workers by their reason for job loss as reported between 2019–2020 and 2022–2023.
Table 4(B): Reason for Losing Job During the Previous Year
|Reason||Average (2019/2020)||Average (2022/2023)|
|End of Seasonal Job (Employee)||12.4%||12.0%|
|End of Temporary/Casual (Employee)||13.5%||13.7%|
|Company Moved/Closed Down (Employee)||1.4%||1.1%|
|Business Conditions (Employees)||10.7%||15.4%|
As mentioned above, this includes additional reasons than had been collected previously. The additions are the last six on the list. “Other” became “dismissal or other”. It’s worth noting that “other” is a much lower share of overall reasons for leaving a job once the other categories are included. This supports the contention that much of what was included in “other” previously is now accounted for with these additional options.
As the table shows, there is very little difference in the share of people who have left a previous job for the various reasons. Personal/Family and Business Conditions increased slightly and Going to School decreased. There is nothing to suggest that in recent times, individuals are leaving jobs for reasons that are in any way different than why they were leaving jobs prior to the global pandemic.
Among those not working who worked previously, those who are looking for employment were working before. Between 19/20 and 22/23, the shares have changed some — fewer were working or going to school while more were managing a house. But, overall, the numbers don’t change that much.
Table 5: Main Activity Prior to Looking for Work
|Main Activity||Average (2019–2020)||Average (2022–2023)|
|Managing a Home||15.4%||20.7%|
|Going to School||20.1%||18.1%|
Table 6: Reason for Not Looking for Work During the Reference Week
|Reason||Average (2019–2020)||Average (2022–2023)|
|Own Illness or Disability||23.9%||30.7%|
|Caring for Children||10.1%||9.8%|
|Other Personal or Family Responsibilities||10.5%||11.2%|
|Awaiting Recall or Reply||10.1%||12.6%|
Among those not working who worked previously, the reasons for not looking for a job do change in some cases between 19/20 and 22/23. Specifically:
- Other decreased
- Own Illness or Disability increased
- School decreased – this is consistent with earlier results showing fewer of those not currently working pursuing education
- Awaiting a Recall or Reply increased
- Interestingly, the share who are not looking because they are Discouraged, remained the same.
Overall, what does the LFS tell us?
It says that Ontario has not had a Great Resignation. The number of people leaving jobs has not really increased except from retirement which was an inevitability given Ontario’s aging population and has been well-discussed previously. Beyond retirement, people are not leaving jobs in greater numbers or for reasons that are very different than the reasons that they have been leaving jobs in the past.
The deeper dive shows that when compared to a pre-COVID baseline of 2019/2020, 2022/2023 shows the same general demographic differences between those not working who had worked before with the general workforce. Construction/Trades have become a little more stable as employment opportunities and Accommodations/Food Service a little more unstable. Fewer people not working are pursuing education, but people are leaving jobs for the same reasons and with the same proportionality as in the past. Those who have worked but are not working are not looking for jobs for the same reasons as they had previously. While the results do show some minor differences between the two time periods, the LFS shows that the provincial employment situation and context remain remarkably similar to the pre-COVID situation.
The Covid 19 Pandemic and the subsequent closures and social distancing rules created massive disruption in Ontario’s labour market. The pandemic caused a surge in unemployment and had a terribly uneven impact, exacerbating the inequalities already faced by women, youth and marginalized workers. Some longer lasting effects around hybrid work, front-line health care worker burnout, and the acceleration towards on-line shopping (e.g., Amazon) are still being played out.
Certain sentiments of the Great Resignation may ring true. Undoubtably, many Ontarians (with the financial means to do so), reconsidered their work-life balance. And – there is still a constant cry about “where have the workers gone” from employers and industry associations faced with recruitment and retention challenges. While the Great Resignation provides a rather simple answer to the current shortage of workers, the reality is more complex. Canada now has half a million more jobs than we did before the pandemic. Combined with an increase in retirements and less immigration (due to the pandemic, Canada was short of its immigration targets by about 100,000), labour shortages were an inevitability. In summary, while the narrative of the Great Resignation made an interesting story and spawned numerous sequels (Great Regret, Great Relocation, Great Renegotiation, and Quiet Quitting) there is minimal evidence that it occurred, or it is occurring in Ontario.
Brace Yourself For The Great Resignation: A Note To The Leaders | (forbes.com), Forbes, 2021. Is the Great Resignation Over? Not Even Close | HRPA, Chetan Sehgal, HRPA, 2022.
The Great Resignation Didn’t Start with the Pandemic | (hbr.org) Joseph Fuller and William Kerr, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
“Great Resignations” Are Common During Fast Recoveries | San Francisco Fed (frbsf.org), Bart Hobijn, FRBSF Economic Letter, 2022.
The Great Resignation Is Turning Into the Great Regret. Employers Are Joining In Too | Inc.com, Jessica Stillman, Inc., 2022.
The “Great Resignation” in perspective : Monthly Labor Review: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics | (bls.gov), Maury Gittleman, Monthly Labor Review, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2022.
The Great Resignation never actually happened in Canada | Financial Post, Denise Paglinawan, Financial Post, 2023.
The Great Resignation or the Great Rethink? | (hbr.org), Ranjay Gulati, 2022.
After the Great Resignation, where did all the Canadian workers go? | CBC News, CBC, 2022. The Great Resignation & Canadian Workers | The Leveller, Grace McGrenere, The Leveller, 2022.
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Written by: Kevin Stolarick, PhD & John MacLaughlin
Edited by: Megha Parhar
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