Did you quit your job during COVID? You’re not alone
At the end of May, Sarah Lynch pulled on the launch cord.
The 31-year-old brand designer had worked at Coursera, the online training company, for five years. During the pandemic, a booming e-learning business meant Lynch was busier than ever – and spiraling into burnout.
“I love my business and I love my job, but I couldn’t keep moving forward,” Lynch said. “I didn’t really have energy, I didn’t really like what I was doing anymore, I couldn’t really concentrate.”
Then Coursera went public. Like many workers at the top of the income ladder, whose savings were bolstered by a bull market, Lynch found herself sitting on a financial cushion for the first time in her life thanks to her stock options.
“I recognize it’s extremely privileged to have this cushion now, but I can take the time I really want,” said Lynch. “I don’t have another job in sight after that, and it’s like – I come from a working-class background, you don’t quit one job and you don’t have another.” But she can’t wait to spend some time working on her design portfolio, slow down, read a few books, and take a pottery class.
“I haven’t had a break in 10 years,” said Lynch, since graduating during the recession, graduating with a master’s degree and getting a good job. Now she thinks about her future: “Do I really want to burn myself out over and over again? “
Lynch is part of the hottest business trend for summer 2021: quitting her job.
More than 3.9 million people quit smoking in April, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, marking the highest resignation rate – the ratio of people leaving their jobs to total employment – since the agency started collecting this information in 2000. The number of job vacancies has also reached a record level, with 695,000 more open jobs than the unemployed.
Workers in industries that tend to have a high turnover rate, such as retail, warehousing and food services, are quitting in large numbers. Professional and business services – a catch-all category that includes many clerical jobs nationwide – saw the second-highest increase in quits, with 94,000 more workers leaving their jobs in April compared to March.
Unraveling the trends and the significance of national numbers can be difficult, and quitting smoking is not an option to be taken lightly for most workers. In the hospitality industry or in Hollywood, where most workers have been out of work for much of the past year, getting back to work is always a priority.
But human resources experts say the white-collar workforce has multiple reasons to consider exits this summer.
Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, has researched the psychology of abandonment for much of his career. He said the numbers indicate pent-up demand for change. Nearly 6 million fewer people left their jobs in 2020 than in 2019, according to BLS statistics, which Klotz attributes to workers ‘sheltering in place’ as the pandemic shook the global economy.
After a year of unprecedented stress, workers are also exhausted and re-examining their lifestyles. “People have had disclosures over the past year,” Klotz said. “We all want to pursue life, freedom and happiness, and many of us have realized that our work is not the best way to achieve it.”
At the same time, the booming stock market, cutbacks in spending during the lockdown, extension of unemployment benefits, and financial stimulus measures have resulted in segments of the workforce having long-term accounts. healthy savings – or at least less debt to worry about if they take the plunge.
Brett Wells, director of people analytics at Perceptyx, a company that works with a number of Fortune 500 companies to survey employee opinion and sentiment, said his company is closely monitoring whether employees are considering to resign. “When an employee tells you they’re going to leave, they do it,” Wells said. “We saw this peak, for various reasons.”
The main reason for wanting to leave, Wells said, is the desire for flexibility, both in schedules and the ability to work from home. “It’s in the foreground as offices start to pull back,” Wells said. “If organizations don’t respond to these demands, we’re going to see people voting with their feet. “
Wells said the upper echelons of management tend to be stuck on the idea of “office automation”: that working in person is intangibly superior. This attitude manifests itself in corporate leadership regardless of age or generational cohort of leaders, according to Perceptyx research.
After the executive ranks, Generation Z workers – those in the early years of their careers – are the most likely to want to return to the office, Wells said. Despite being completely digital natives, these young workers say in surveys that they are most afraid of missing out on their professional development by working remotely.
One group in particular has already left the workforce in record numbers: working mothers.
“We’ve seen them leave en masse in much bigger waves,” both in frontline and managerial positions, Wells said, as the demands of juggling parenting, teaching and working at home increase. Regardless of parental status, Perceptyx also found that men are more enthusiastic about returning to the office, with women expressing a desire to return on average one less day per week than their male peers.
But this summer may well represent a continuation of trends that have developed over the years, said Tami Simon, who heads global consulting business at benefits and HR consulting firm Segal.
“I think sometimes we tend to oversimplify these issues,” said Simon. Demographic shifts in the U.S. workforce mean that, just as baby boomers begin to exit the workforce in greater numbers, millennials are reaching their early working years, when they have the greatest job mobility. of their career.
“The good news is that organizations are great at innovating, but they need to be as innovative in terms of managing and retaining employees as they are at the heart of their business,” said Klotz, professor at Texas A&M.
Based on conversations he has had with people this year, he believes we may see a shift towards shorter work weeks as employers try to adapt to changing demands. “A number of people don’t want to work 40 hours a week, they want to do 20 or 30, with the understanding that there is less pay,” Klotz said. “You might think, ‘Oh, these are millennials who don’t want to work that much,’ but a lot of people I talk to are people near retirement, saying they could work another 10 years at 30 hours, but not 40. “
Klotz has also seen some companies switch to offering one-month annual sabbaticals to avoid burnout and is considering offering more flexible work-from-home arrangements as part of a retention strategy.
“From a research perspective, one of our basic needs as humans is the need for autonomy,” Klotz said. Employers demanding a return to work in person “ask us to give up this basic need that we had satisfied during the pandemic” by working from home.
But changes in performance and work structures will not be enough to retain those who want a major change.
“I lived it, honestly,” said Krystine Altamirano, a 28-year-old Miamiian who works in accounting at a private equity firm she plans to leave in August – her contract required her to give notice. 90 days. .
The decision to step down was not an easy one for Altamirano, who believed she was on a clear career path in finance before the pandemic gave her time to rethink everything. “I kind of fought, like everyone else does, everyone has stressful jobs, and they face it and end up retiring,” Altamirano said.
But in the spring she realized she couldn’t go on. “Life shouldn’t be so stressful all the time,” she said. “Capitalism has just become more and more damaging to the mental health of people. “
She wants a complete career change, maybe an education, and plans to figure out where to go next after taking time off and living on her savings.
And knowing that she’s part of a wave of abandonment this summer is a comfort. “I think it’s cool that it’s such a common thing now,” Altamirano said. “It makes me feel less alone. “