the great resignation and the lie flat movement

As young people continue to redefine work culture, how should business owners and leaders respond?

Written by Maple Dappa

My experience with Winny opened my eyes to the gradual shift in the work culture and aspirations of young people, especially those who have great work ethics and discipline.


Winny was earning NGN40,000 at the time as an entry-level salary. She moved from Asaba to Port Harcourt to take up the role. Eventually, she moved back to Asaba to be self-employed after fourteen months on the job.

She mentioned to me that she was learning how to make hair via YouTube. I didn’t hesitate to encourage her initiative because I knew she deserved better pay but the business could not afford to pay more at the time.


She focused on a particular hairstyle and started making it pro-bono for her friends until she perfected the craft and started charging 5,000naira per client for home service. Within a short time, she was getting a minimum of 8 clients each month. She provided this service mostly during weekends. The implication was that she was making as much as her salary just by providing this service on weekends alone.


This new reality boosted her confidence to return to Asaba since it has always been her utmost desire to be closer to her family. We steered these conversations further till the point where she notified me of her intention to resign. That was three months ahead of the resignation itself. We got walking through things together as the business employed someone else, whom she trained. Her hand-over was smooth. That was a few years ago.


In recent months, young people across the world are taking control over their work-life with some even going overboard with it. In the United States, this phenomenon, which has become a movement is called “The Great Resignation” and according to a Bloomberg article, more than 24 million young people resigned from their jobs between April to September of 2021—and many from that number are staying out of the labour force entirely. Websites for freelance jobs are experiencing a surge in membership subscriptions.
The article submits that incomes have stagnated, job security has become precarious, and the costs of housing and education have soared, leaving fewer young people who can build a financially stable life. Millennials (born between 1980 and the late 1990s) and Generation Z (the demographic cohort after them), tend to marry, buy houses, and have children later than their forebears—if at all.
Some statistics were shared last year – out of 2000 millennials that were interviewed in Nigeria during a survey, approximately 90% still lived with their parents or family while 90% were yet to own their cars. The poser “God when?” may seem like just a social media fun thing, but it indicates an underlying concern by young people who are putting in the work and wondering when they will be able to rent a home at least, afford a car, get married, and live a life of better quality. The more these dreams stay unfulfilled, the more these young people lose the zeal for work. Forget about the lazy ones, when hard-working young people grow disenchanted, we should be concerned.
In China, young people are choosing to “lie flat” as the phenomenon is named. They are damning the fear of being unemployed and opting out of a gruelling 996 work schedule where they work from 9 am to 9 pm for 6 days of the week. A post made on the Baidu Tieba platform by a user called ‘Kind-Hearted Traveler’ triggered the movement. The user posted “I haven’t been working for two years, and I don’t see anything wrong with this. Pressure mainly comes from comparisons with your peers and the values of the older generations. But we don’t have to follow them.”
The Bloomberg article reports that almost half of the world’s workers are considering quitting. According to a Microsoft Corp. survey, about 4 in 10 millennial and Gen Z respondents say they’d leave their job if asked to come back to the office full time, a global survey by advisory company Qualtrics International Inc. found—more than any other generation.
I have tried recruiting for some clients recently in a few Nigerian cities and the first question the most eligible candidates ask is “Can I work remotely?” You can imagine all that is veiled behind that question. Young workers want more control of their time and how they work; they don’t want to keep being boxed up so long as they can deliver on their tasks.
“Jack, a 32-year-old tech worker who gave only one name for fear of reprisal from his employer, was full of ambition when a telecommunications company hired him five years ago, but a punishing workload failed to translate into the success he’d hoped for, and over time his enthusiasm fizzled out. He’s still working, but not as hard. “Even for well-paid professionals like me and my girlfriend, it’s still crazy,” he says. “The down payment for a flat in Shenzhen is 2, 3 million yuan [about $314,000 to $471,000]. That’s like both our savings, plus very huge help from our parents.”
In October 2021, thousands of employees at companies including Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. and TikTok owner ByteDance Ltd. participated in an online campaign branded “Worker Lives Matter” by posting information on when they start and end their workdays on a public spreadsheet. ByteDance has since mandated a shorter workweek.
Nate Mann, who at 40 is among the oldest millennials, spent almost half his life as a bartender in Washington, D.C. He put up with late nights and high stress in return for about $80,000 a year. But when Covid closed the bar at which he worked in March 2020, he decided to focus on something he’d been doing on the side for a while: painting. “I all of a sudden had all this time, so I just hunkered down and focused on the art,” he says.
His story is the same with Chioma in Lagos, a young woman I interviewed for a position. She resigned from her position in a school and went into the painting of artworks. Ngozi, also in Lagos, lamented working from 7 am to 9 pm daily including Sundays. She had to quit even without an alternative because it was taking a toll on her two children and husband.
The more young people chase their dreams, the more things like economic downturn make it unrealistic and they are wondering if it is all worth the effort. Betting is fast becoming a norm and many would argue that there is nothing wrong with it. Beyond our complaints of loan sharks sending us messages, have we thought about why even decent and well-mannered young people are increasingly borrowing money and digging pits of debt all around them? Let’s leave the judgmental side of things first and think about it.
These were the thoughts on our mind when we published the book “Money Making Ideas”, it was a compilation to answer the questions young people were constantly bombarding us with via inbox.
I had a conversation with my mentor a few days ago and she said young people today have been overly exposed to the opulent lifestyle of the haves through reality TV, Instagram, etc, so contentment has become a strange concept to these young people who are now constantly under pressure from themselves, peers, family, and society to level up. Prior to this time, you didn’t need to know what the bedrooms of the rich looked like, what they ate for breakfast, etc but today, all that and more are constantly in the faces of young people.
Let me conclude with a statement by one young worker thus; “No matter how hard you work, you won’t be able to buy a house,” he says. “The threshold is always rising, so it’s becoming more unobtainable. What’s the point?”
A few are able to beat the odds, but what happens with the majority, particularly the ones who want to stay legit and achieve success ethically?
I think businesses face the brunt and it is naïve to think the solution is simply to replace those quitting with others. We are not talking about lazy people quitting, we are talking about quality talents who are hard-working throwing in the towel. You should be futuristic and think of what you can do within your ability and resources in your business to address these concerns.
If you can review pay upwards, do it.
If you can review work hours, do it.
If you can adapt to a hybrid, do it. People must not come to the office to get work done.
Our Admin Staff is currently undergoing her NYSC at Ogun State and she is retaining the position and working from there.
It is beautiful when you post your new home, new car, Dubai trip, etc on social media, but are you keen and working towards your workers also affording the good things of life?
It is tough, no doubt. The economy is tough, no doubt. The question is are you keen on it? That is the key differentiator between modern-day day slave masters and those who cannot sincerely afford it at this time.
This year, employee turnover will be one of the toughest challenges for businesses. Do well to draw the loyal and quality ones closer. Do all you can to retain them. Create incentives and give concessions as a reward for diligence and commitment.
If this post triggered you in some way, then it is a call to #DoBusinessBetter
Image Credit: The Economist
Your Co-Traveler,
Mister Maple