Data from the United States Job Openings and Labor Turnover report shows that a record 4.4 million American workers left their jobs in September 2021, and Bankrate’s August job seeker survey found that more than half of American workers polled intend to seek a new job in the coming year. With inflation rising and the economy trying to recover from the pandemic, why are so many people walking away from employment?
According to labor experts, Americans are burned out and feeling confident enough to leave their jobs because of the current labor market conditions.
Quits, which are defined as voluntary separations that are initiated by the worker, have risen the most in sectors where the pay is low or most of the work is done in person. The biggest increase in quits was seen in recreation, arts and entertainment.
The COVID-19 pandemic is being blamed for some of these resignations. As people reevaluated their lives and careers, many realized they no longer wished to continue in a job that they were not fully satisfied with. Some people decided it was time to to switch to a new field or pursue a different line of work entirely.
Texas A&M University Management Professor Anthony Klotz coined the phrase “The Great Resignation” to describe the current trend. He told CNBC: “We were all able to take a step back in the last year and spend more time doing other things and really question the value of what we’re doing at work. A number of people have made the decision, ‘I need to make a change.’”
He believes that the situation could force companies to offer better benefits and wages as well as greater flexibility to attract and retain a good workforce.
Former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich concurs with Klotz’s explanation of the reasons behind the mass exodus, telling TIME: “Workers are burned out. They’re fed up. They’re fried. In the wake of so much hardship, and illness and death during the past year, they’re not going to take it anymore.”
The pandemic has taken a toll on many people’s mental health, and some workers have decided that they would rather quit and save their sanity than continue to deal with demanding bosses, low wages and few opportunities for advancement in their current roles – even if they don’t have anything on the horizon.
Mental health isn’t the only aspect of the pandemic that drove people to quit their jobs; many working mothers who could not find reasonably priced childcare options as their children schooled at home had to leave the workforce temporarily. Meanwhile, some people in customer-facing roles left their positions due to concerns about contracting the virus, while workers in warehouses and manufacturing who were overwhelmed by strong demand decided to leave for less stressful jobs.
Many people leaving their jobs are doing so feeling safe in the knowledge that there are currently 10.4 million job openings in the country, which is well above pre-pandemic levels; the figure for November 2019 was 6.8 million. Businesses desperate to fill openings are offering attractive benefits, including higher wages, flexible working schedules, sign-on bonuses and upskilling. It is essentially a workers’ market right now, with employees having much greater bargaining power than they did before.
Bankrate Senior Economist Mark Hamrick pointed out: “If there ever were a time for someone to be in a position to make a reasonable request of their employers, this would be the time.”
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