In 2021, three words shaped the world of work: "The Great Resignation."
Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor at Texas A&M University, coined the phrase during an interview with Bloomberg last May to describe the wave of people quitting their jobs due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, which led many to re-think where, how and why we work.
But he never predicted what would happen next: The Great Resignation has continued to dominate headlines and stun business leaders as turnover reaches new highs. In November, a record 4.5 million workers left their jobs, according to the Labor Department's latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover report.
The Great Resignation has inspired other terms to describe the work revolution we're witnessing, including "The Great Reimagination," "The Great Reset" and "The Great Realization." These narratives explain how we're re-examining the role of work in our lives, but miss the broader consequences of this quitting wave, and what it means for the individual worker, Klotz argues.
"It's not just about getting another job, or leaving the workforce, it's about taking control of your work and personal life, and making a big decision – resigning – to accomplish that," he tells CNBC Make It. "This is a moment of empowerment for workers, one that will continue well into the new year."
Below, Klotz shares his three predictions for what work will look like in 2022:
Quitting will continue in 2022 — but Klotz doesn't expect turnover to spike as high as it did last year.
Americans quit jobs at a record pace during the second half of 2021, and more plan to resign in the new year. About 23% of employees will seek new jobs in 2022, while 9% have already secured a new position, according to a December ResumeBuilder.com poll of 1,250 American workers.
Although Klotz predicts that quitting will continue steadily at similar, elevated rates we've seen over the past year, he's not confident that "we'll see another big quitting wave in 2022," he says.
That's because the tight labor market has pushed companies to offer better benefits and higher salaries, which Klotz says will keep employee turnover from being "completely rampant" in the months ahead.
The freedom to work from anywhere has become the most sought-after benefit during the pandemic – so much so that people value flexibility as much as a 10% pay raise, according to new research from the WFH Research Project.
More companies will embrace this change to attract and retain talent, Klotz argues. "Leaders are starting to ask, 'How can we give people more power over their schedules? How can we be more flexible?'" he says.
Managers that blame external factors for turnover – whether it be government leadership, the pandemic, unemployment benefits or other reasons – and refuse to offer flexible work arrangements will be the "losers who struggle in the wake of the Great Resignation," Klotz adds.
Klotz expects that a flexible working culture will lead to better work-life balance and improved mental health for employees. "A silver lining of this horrible pandemic is that the world of work will take a huge positive step forward for workers," he says. "Work will fit around our personal lives rather than our personal lives fitting around work."
As companies struggle to hire in the United States, a growing number of managers could turn to automation and international candidates to fill open roles.
The pandemic accelerated the trend toward automation as companies embraced digital waiters, concierges and other technologies amid social distancing rules and virus fears. In 2020, the World Economic Forum surveyed about 300 global companies and found that 43% of businesses expect to reduce their workforces with new technology.
Klotz predicts that companies will make larger investments in robots and artificial intelligence to reduce hiring times and costs even after the pandemic subsides.
Those same benefits could push companies to hire more international candidates for remote roles and create even more competition for remote jobs, he adds. "In the United States, employees tend to be paid higher wages than people in many other countries," Klotz says. "If you're a remote organization, you can recruit workers from all over the world who can do the same job for a cheaper rate."