Employment: is the “great resignation” really sweeping over France?

Le gouvernement recommande deux à trois jours de télétravail par semaine en entreprise.
The government recommends two to three days of telework per week in business.
More than one in three French employees who occupy “non-teleworking” positions in France would consider leaving it quickly. (Illustration ©Pixabay)(©Côté Quimper.)

The “great resignation” (“ big quit“, in English) does it arrive in France? In the United States, since last summer, millions of employees have left their jobs. This wave of voluntary departures – unheard of since American statistics on resignations exist – is it now reaching France?

For Serge da Motta Veiga, professor of human resources management at EDHEC Business School, and former professor of management at the American University of Washington, “it is impossible to compare France to the United States”.

“Quite simply, because the mentalities and the relationship to work are not at all identical, the distances too…”, even if it “is true” that the Covid-19 health crisis has placed, in France too, the accent on “a phenomenon”… which is however “not new”.


“The bubble was ready to burst, and then the Covid arrived”, he summarizes with d’actu.fr. Some employees also planned to resign in 2020, but, under the effect of the pandemic, postponed this decision for several months.

The long period of questioning that the health crisis has generated has played a role of catalyst, of trigger, for many employees, in particular the youngest, who no longer hesitate to leave their jobs and slam the door.

Serge da Motta VeigaProfessor of Human Resources Management at EDHEC Business School

“This health crisis has brought a questioning, a search for meaningwith, at the center, this question: “am I in a job that really brings me what I want”, underlines the teacher.

But this questioning is much more important across the Atlantic, because the balance between private life and work is much more fragile there. It is less marked in France where we love to complain, while the quality of life is much better there. In the United States, people often worked until death.

Serge da Motta VeigaProfessor of Human Resources Management at EDHEC Business School

Reinviting the way we work

” Why do i need to be controlled ? I managed to do my job from home or elsewhere, why am I being called back to the office like this? I was formatted, and with teleworking and confinement, I realized that I could obtain better life balanceI have had time to take care of my children or carry out more personal projects…” These questions are the same on both sides of the Atlantic, even if the trend – which is very real – is not played out in the same proportions or in the same context in the two countries.

The phenomenon is good difficult to measure statistically in France, but is nevertheless based on a few figures and studies “which show that in France there is a real need to reinstate the way we work, that companies must be more malleable, be multi-speed”.

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In 2019, Dares, the studies and statistics branch of the Ministry of Labour, already assessed at “71%” the percentage of private sector employers indicating that they had difficulty recruiting for certain vacancies in the previous 12 months.

To explain this problem, almost all the employers concerned (91%) mentioned shortage of qualified people. Then came the “insufficiently attractive salary” (26% of cases) and “working conditions deemed difficult” (15%).

Around six out of 10 professions were already under severe recruitment pressure three years ago, compared to… one in four in 2015, in particular in the sectors of home help, road transport, industrial production, hotels and restaurants.

An imbalance “between supply and demand”

“One of the first challenges for temporary work agencies is now to find candidates who present themselves on the first day of employment”, explained last December on The Conversation professors from the Normandy School of Management.

According to them, the first reason for this “great resignation” is a imbalance now “between supply and demand”. A lower unemployment rate, which, if it constitutes “good news for employees”, inevitably creates “tensions on the job market”.

In many sectors, it would be “easier” to quit your job, because you can find one more easily. The teachers of the business school thus already invited a few months ago employers “to rethink the relationship to work and the social and moral pact which unites them to their employees”.

Contractual terminations on the rise

Dares, the study and statistics branch of the Ministry of Labour, has looked into contractual terminations. Results ? “They increased by 6% in 2021 compared to 2020” in France to reach nearly 454,000 ruptures last year.
They are on the rise again after a drop due to the health crisis in 2020 (+6.1%, after -3.6%) and exceed their 2019 level by 2.3%. This rebound is evident in all regions ( it is in Normandy (+12.6%), in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur (+10.6%) and in the Pays de la Loire (+9.3%) that the increases are the most marked ) and in most sectors of activity, except information-communication and financial and insurance activities (respectively -4.5% and -0.4% compared to 2020), details the management of the public administration.
Contractual terminations are increasing for all age groups. While they are slowing down among executives (+1.6% after +2.3% in 2020 and +10% in 2019), they are rising sharply in the other socio-professional categories where they had fallen back in 2020.
They will increase sharply in certain sectors in 2021. Their growth rate thus exceeds 10% in construction (+16.0%), transport and warehousing (+13.8%), real estate activities (+13.6%) or even in the non-market sector (+12.1% in the public administration, education, human health and social action sector).
Given remuneration and seniority, executives have better severance pay: half of them receive at least 0.30 monthly salary per year of seniority, against 0.25 for workers and employees. According to Dares, the “median compensation (for executives) thus amounts to 5,280 euros, against 1,000 euros for employees”.

The role of teleworking

This more meaningful questioning “on the meaning of work” has been set to music in the new title “ break my soul by American singer Beyoncé, who refers to this “great resignation”. Excerpts: “I fell in love, I left my job, I’m going to find a new engine”, (…) “Get out of your job, get out of time”.

If, in France, the experts relativize the phenomenon because the resigners do not leave the labor market, the need to telecommute nevertheless often becomes paramount. “This is less true for the youngest, generation Z, more in search of social ties in the office”, puts Serge da Motta Veiga into perspective.

More than one in three French employees, who occupy “non-teleworking” positions in France, would consider leaving it quickly. This is the result of a study published in early July by the firm BCG (Boston consulting group), an international strategy consulting firm, present in fifty countries around the world.

What do the studies say?

According to the authors of the work, the distribution/consumption (41%) and industrial production (36%) sectors are the most threatened by the phenomenon. However, no sector seems spared.

In detail, the Japanese (42%) and the British (41%) are the least attached to their job, followed by the Australians (36%), Indians and of the French (34%)Americans and Germans (33%), specifies the report (“Why workers without desks leave, how to bring them back”) based on a representative sample of more than 7,000 people.

The reasons that lead employees to leave their jobs are, in this order: lack of career prospects (41%), salary (30%), lack of flexibility (28%)balance with personal life (22%) and professional fulfillment (15%).

While advancement is massive in most countries, the ranking highlights differences on the other criteria. In France, the salary (22%) is thus behind the work-life balance (23%) while the lack of recognition (15%) is felt.

This phenomenon of the “great resignation” has also been measured with the Global Workforce Hopes and Fears of PwC, a consulting and auditing firm, one of the largest surveys ever carried out on employees in the world, including more than 2,100 French people. One in five workers say they are likely to change employers in the next 12 months. One in six in France.


Of course, between the desire to change and taking action, there may be a ditch. But it remains a signal that companies cannot ignore.

In this investigation, salary increase is the main motivation for changing jobs (71%), finding fulfilling work (69%) and wanting to be yourself at work (66%). Nearly half of them (47%) also favor the possibility of choosing one’s place of work.

France is part of this dynamic with the same top 3: the salary increase remains in first place with 58%, professional development reaches 55% and the possibility of being oneself at work receives 51%. However, the study notes a difference: the feeling of freedom in daily work stands out particularly among the French (4th position with 45%).

What do the labor market figures say in France?

In 2021454,000 individual contractual terminations have been approved in the private sector in metropolitan France, pointed out the Dares in a study, at the beginning of August 2022. Developed by the Fillon government, the conventional breach of the indefinite-term contract must obtain the agreement of the employee and the employer.

Unlike dismissal, this procedure allows the employee to receive compensation, and the employer to avoid industrial tribunals. But it is pointed out by some unions who see it as a disguised resignation or early retirement. Is this trend indicative of a “great resignation”? In reality, the number of conventional terminations has been on the rise since their creation in 2008.

In the 1st quarter of 2022, in metropolitan France, 6,245,900 employment contracts were signed in the private sector (excluding agriculture, temporary work and individual employers), i.e. more than before the health crisis and than in the previous quarter (+1. 1% after +1.0% in the 4th quarter of 2021), notes the Dares.

The number of hires on permanent contracts (CDI) increased more (+1.5% after +2.8%) than those on fixed-term contracts (CDD) (+1.0% after +0.6 %). The number of hires on permanent contracts clearly exceeds its level before the health crisis (+18.5% compared to the 4th quarter of 2019), while the number of hires on fixed-term contracts is still below (-1, 0%). 6,116,400 contracts expire in the 1st quarter of 2022, i.e. 0.2% more than in the previous quarter (after +2.6% in the 4th quarter of 2021).

In France, it is clear that “for the moment”, there is no flight from the job market. But desires, which companies must hear.

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