The Loop

The Great Reshuffle

Filed under: Benefits

COVID-19 had a measurable impact on the American labor market. About a fifth of the adult population lost their jobs or a portion of their income during the pandemic. Many of those who remained fully employed faced enormous health risks as healthcare and essential workers. As the economy reopened, this led to a period of introspection when workers reassessed the role of work in their life, reset priorities, and sought a more fulfilling situation that offered increased flexibility, higher pay, and better alignment with their personal values. In short, they decided that a job should complement their lifestyle, not drive it.

This movement led to the “Great Resignation.” In 2021, more than 47 million Americans resigned from their jobs, followed by 50 million in 2022. For many, the daily aggravation they experienced at work combined with inadequate pay were not enough to justify working, so they quit. While part of this exodus was exacerbated by the health risks that persisted with COVID-19, another huge incentive was that many Americans discovered the perks of being able to work from home. Once isolation and mask mandates ended and employers ordered people back to work, many made the decision that if they couldn’t continue in their position via remote work, they would simply find another job.

New Goals, New Job

Not many people can continue indefinitely without income, so it was inevitable that the vast majority of resignees would return to work. Fortunately, some employers made the decision to downsize their corporate offices to allow workers flexible schedules and locations. However, many did not. What followed in this wake was a labor pool shuffle – now known as the “Great Reshuffle.”

New Priorities

Often enough, our jobs drive our priorities. When and how many hours we have to work each week can propel decisions such as whether or not a child can participate in after-school activities, or if parents can attend workday events such as a science fair, a soccer game, or chaperone a field trip. A 2022 work trend study by Microsoft found that 47 percent of respondents said they were more likely to prioritize family and personal life over work than before the pandemic. Demonstrating the true long-term impact of COVID-19, more than half said they also are more likely to prioritize health and wellbeing over work.

New Career

Re-evaluating work also opened up new opportunities for some people. Whether aggravated by the personal health risks they experienced during the pandemic, or determined to earn higher income and better benefits, many took the Great Reshuffle as a chance to learn a new trade with better prospects for the future. According to research by the management consulting firm Oliver Wyman, between August 2020 and March 2022, more than 10 percent of Americans who quit jobs in manufacturing, hospitality, and other industries that feature hourly positions completed training for a new occupation. Popular new careers trended toward software and tech-related roles, particularly in logistics, finance, and healthcare. While some workers may seek a college degree in preparation for a new career, many of these new positions do not require a degree but rather specialized training and certification. This reshuffle has converted many former blue-collar workers into what is referred to as “new collar work”.

New Place of Business

Today, close to 10 percent of all job postings are fully remote (in the UK it’s 45 percent). To illustrate how popular these jobs are, in December 2023 a LinkedIn study found that the relatively smaller number of remote positions received 45 percent of all job applications. One of the positives of the remote/hybrid work trend is that is has created more work opportunities for people who otherwise may have been excluded, such as women, members of Generation Z, the disabled, and people without an advanced degree.

Although many companies are unable or unwilling to commit to fully remote staffing, a recent study found that more than two-thirds of US employers plan to adopt hybrid work options by the end of 2024. This driving trend appears to be the most effective way to compete for top talent as well as increase worker productivity and engagement.

New Schedule

A study conducted by Paychex found that a key reason full time and hourly workers are unhappy in their jobs is due to unpredictable scheduling. Not having a reliable weekly schedule creates mental and financial stress, leading to higher levels of burnout. This phenomenon has become so prevalent that some states have implemented legislation that requires employers to increase wages — known as “predictability pay” — for last-minute scheduling changes.


Another trend that emerged from the pandemic is that it gave more independent-minded people a chance to pursue the dream of becoming their own boss. In 2021 alone, the US witnessed 5.4 million new business applications as entrepreneurs and freelancers sought to reinvent their careers. Hanging out one’s own shingle is another path toward greater autonomy, long-term income potential based on self-actualized initiative and experience, and the ability to align work with personal values, household schedules, and lifestyle goals.

Employer Challenge

While the Great Resignation spurred employers to beef up compensation and benefits, the Great Reshuffle offers a new set of learning opportunities. It may be time for companies with traditional work models to consider reinvigorating their human resource policies by focusing on continuous learning, internal mobility, and delivering personalized benefits designed to support their workers’ individual needs, goals, and aspirations.

Hourly and low-wage workers view employer-sponsored training and development as the best path to improve their career and income prospects. Fortunately, this gives companies the opportunity to funnel incumbents into different roles to acquire more diverse experience — and the chance to cultivate under-developed or innate skills and aptitudes. In a sense…a reshuffling within the company’s own ranks.

Companies must recognize that providing career growth among rank-and-file workers is important, particularly for younger workers. It also can help improve retention and create a win-win scenario for both employers and their workforce.


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