The Impact of the Great Resignation on Healthcare Workers

Over the course of the past several months, many media outlets have written stories on nurses’ resistance to vaccine mandates. Although most nurses are vaccinated, many reporters and outlets have been obsessed with the small minority of people who have not been vaccinated.

But there has even been narrow reporting on the reasons some nurses were hesitant to be vaccinated. Some nurses hesitated due to dis-trust of hospital management. These are the same managers who failed to contain the virus with adequate PPE. For example, the N95 respir-atory mask should be fit-tested and be used with one patient, then disposed of after four hours. Nurses were told by management to reuse these masks for an entire week. Some hospitals claimed to “clean” the masks and then recirculated them. The disregard of basic health and safety precautions has not inspired trust in hospital leadership. We need more investigative journalists and reporters to cover this part of the vaccine story.

Offer Context

We also need those with platforms and those in the media to offer context. There has been little appreciation for the multiple issues facing nurses, issues that adversely impact mental, physical and emotional health. There has been insufficient coverage on the underlying issues that have exacerbated short staffing — inadequate planning on the part of hospital and nursing home executives, COVID-19 related burnout, the injustice of contract nurse arrangements that see agency nurses paid more than staff nurses for the same work, and lack of mental health supports, etc.

But more than any of this, the narrative that healthcare workers are opting to leave the profession before complying with vaccine mandates has not been situated inside of the broader history of what is happening in the labor movement nationally. COVID-19 has impacted not only healthcare workers, but all workers. The nation is witnessing a great resignation, or mass exodus of workers, that has touched industries from coast to coast.

Impacts of the Great Resignation

Once characterized by signs on retail shops with managers noting some variation of “sorry no one showed up for work,” the great resigna-tion is vaster than many originally expected. And it is influenced not by workers being lazy or unaware of the benefits of vaccinations. Many people are leaving due to burnout, a desire for greater work-life balance, and a need to find more fulfillment at work. Working conditions in many sectors have long been problematic. COVID-19 then, was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. It was the catalyst for change that many had already been contemplating.

Workers Need More

Notwithstanding these issues, younger workers including GenZs and Millenials are opting to leave employers who do not offer extensive PTO, quality health insurance and good pay, in search of those that do. Workers are becoming increasingly aware of their unique offerings and are demanding more from employers than a weekly or bi-weekly paycheck.

As business, healthcare and political reporters cover vaccine mandates, we hope they will situate the story in the context of what is happening more broadly in the labor movement. The great resignation is reaching workers across industries and sectors. Rather than pitting workers against one another, we should be examining how to improve working conditions.

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