The great resignation – from privilege or pestilence?

Earlier in the year I wrote a number of blogs about the 550,000 or so older workers who’d disappeared from the UK labour force over the time of the pandemic. Not much was then known about them except they weren’t appearing on payroll and weren’t getting picked up by the benefits system. They were and are economically inactive, spending not saving, resigned from the workforce either temporarily or for good.

Now the Office of National Statistics has come up with some information about what these people are or aren’t doing and what their long-term intentions might be.

A good Scot, with the Calvinistic work and savings ethic running like a watermark through him, Alistair McQueen has summed the report up so…

This is what the Office of National Statistics has got to say…(in italics) and here I am giving my personal views (between each bullet)

For many of my contemporaries, work ended with a whimper rather than a bang, the carriage clock was little in evidence

It looks as if most of those who resigned from work and were under 50 , did so because work no longer seemed what they wanted to do.

We left because we were tired of work and work became less important to us as our values changed. Covid forced a “re-set. But the over 50s and under 60s do not seem to have earned enough to stop working for good.

Which suggests that the generational divide between the DB have and the DC have-nots is beginning to show, though how many of us really thought that our pension savings could support us through retirement, for many retiring on an average pot in our fifties, we can expect little more than a bridge to the state pension – or an inheritance.

The gender pay gap at work? Or is financial dependency a female strategy? Pay-back time for an adult life of caring – increasingly recognised in the divorce courts and by understanding partners.

This may seem to go against the “pension freedoms” but not against common sense. Does the idea of a sabbatical seem that frivolous? Are the boomers really taking a breather or actually packing it in?

There will no doubt be “tut-tutters” moaning about entitlement, but there are many of my generation who are asking serious questions about the value of (their) work.

The remarkable thing about this observation is that 85% of those under 60 had no intention of returning to full time work, while a massive 97% of those over 60 reckoned they wouldn’t see a full working week again. I can see why Alistair was showing signs of annoyance!

It is interesting to think of men as carers, I know a number, including one of my brothers who are now their parent’s keepers. The workplace will be a different place going forward, offices and commuting will be for the young, but it will be interesting to see if this trend is replicated by those who work with their hands – for whom working from home has not been an option. The statistics suggest that it was primarily a white collared resignation.


These numbers are percentages of a very small portion of those out of work. Full-time work for the vast majority of the 550,000 who have partaken in the “great resignation” doesn’t seem to be on the cards.

This observation suggests that Covid did force some to reluctantly resign. There may be an element of long-covid about this. We have yet to fully understand the residual impact of the pandemic both on physical capacity and on the anxiety of people around “going back”.

Was the Great Resignation from privilege or pestilence?

Returning to Alistair’s mini-blog, there is evidence deeper into the work that the numbers are heavily skewed to those male graduates (like me) who can and against those non-graduate females (unlike me) who can’t.

But we always kind of knew that didn’t we. It would be nice to think that a fairy could sprinkle some dust over systemic inequalities that exist between graduates and non-graduates, men and women , black and white and generational cohorts.

It is however easier to observe these inequalities than to address them. They are what they are and the life lessons we learn are that we should try to give equal opportunity to all.

In the meantime, it’s beholden on lucky people like me , to make the most of our good fortune by sharing our prosperity with others – as befits the good fortune which we have been given. Entitlement is not the word – good fortune is the phrase.

Whether the great resignation was from good fortune or from the plague of Covid, the great resignation does not  look like the new normal, though for most of those who have resigned from full time labour, there looks little prospect that the old normal will return.

About henry tapper

Founder of the Pension PlayPen,, partner of Stella, father of Olly . I am the Pension Plowman
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