If Applebee’s were the solar system — and for nearly six years, to Nick Haner, it felt that way — the customer would have been the sun. Everything revolved around the customer. The customer was always right, he was told. Even when the customer spit in Mr. Haner’s face. Even when the customer screamed that her salad should have been served hot, not cold. Even when the customer ripped his $2 tip in half.
But something happened, last year, to shift that orbit. It started with the signs that Mr. Haner saw popping up in windows as he drove to work: “Now hiring!” McDonald’s was hiring. Walgreens was hiring. Taco Bell closed early because it was short staffed. Everyone in Midland, Mich., it seemed, needed workers. So Mr. Haner began to wonder: Why shouldn’t work revolve around people like him?
“It’s absolute craziness,” said Mr. Haner, 32, who quit his job at Applebee’s last summer and accepted a fully remote position in sales at a tech company. “I decided to take a chance because I was like, ‘If it doesn’t work out, there’s 100 more jobs out there that I can find.’”
More than 40 million people left their jobs last year, many in retail and hospitality. It was called the Great Resignation, and then a rush of other names: the Great Renegotiation, the Great Reshuffle, the Great Rethink. But people weren’t leaving work altogether. They still had to make money. Much of the pandemic stimulus aid stopped by the fall, and savings rates dropped to their lowest in nine years, 6.4 percent, by January. What workers realized, though, is that they could find better ways to earn a living. Higher pay. Stable hours. Flexibility. They expected more from their employers, and appeared to be getting it.