News stories of people quitting their jobs are everywhere, reporting that people are leaving for better opportunities or working for themselves. On the flip side, the news reports stories of unfilled positions and the impact of the labor shortage as companies scramble to find employees. But workers across the globe are putting their collective foot down, telling leaders loud and clear that they want better working conditions, pay and work-life balance. And with 11 million unfilled jobs in the United States alone, it’s evident that companies aren’t creating careers that people want.
So what’s going on? Why are people quitting their jobs? Why are they putting their collective foot down?
The situation is complex, and it’s difficult to pinpoint a single issue. Sure, it’s easy to blame government entitlement programs as the main culprit, and while some are taking advantage of handouts, I believe it has a lot more to do with finding meaning and joy in work.
Wanting to learn from the ‘Era of Resignation,’ I decided to ask my network what they thought. After talking with dozens of leaders and individuals, I’ve narrowed ‘The Great Resignation’ down to these reasons.
Family Comes First
During the pandemic, many people began to reevaluate their work and life, especially when it came to spending time with family. After traveling over 100K miles every year, I can relate. It was a reprieve to be at home with my family, month after month. I am never going back to that kind of travel; it’s too hard on my mind, body, and family. Additionally, I worked fewer hours to homeschool my son, and I realized the toll of working 60+ hours a week. My life improved dramatically during the pandemic, and I renewed my sense of self and family. I am not alone. Many of the people I spoke with said the same thing: “I am putting my family first. The health of my relationships is more important than grinding it out every day.” People left if their jobs didn’t fit with their newfound family-first purpose.
Looking for Purpose in Work
Finding purpose in our work is essential to thriving in life and the workplace. People want to know that their work matters in the bigger picture and aligns with their talents and skills. One gentleman I spoke to said, “If I am working 8-10 hours a day, I want to feel good about what I accomplished at the end of the day. But not just for the benefit of my company. I want to feel purposeful in my life – like I am doing something I am meant to be doing.” Statics corroborate this. According to a Gallup poll, only four in 10 employees strongly agree that the mission or purpose of their organization makes them feel their job is important. This statistic is not compelling, and it’s one business leaders need to focus on if they want to inspire people to stay.
Bad Jobs Are Bad Jobs
There’s no getting around it; some jobs suck and that’s why people are quitting. Low pay, long hours, unsafe work conditions, rude customers – all these things have always made people want to quit. And now they are doing it. Speaking to a friend of mine who works in customer service for a global airline, she said, “I’m tired of being treated like I don’t have feelings or value. I can’t control my company’s decisions, but I am on the receiving end of customers’ anger and frustration. I don’t feel seen or heard by my company or our customers, and I dread going to work every day. The pay isn’t worth feeling bad about myself.”
Many who are quitting jobs are going to work for themselves. The WFH movement showed people could do much of their work from anywhere. Several people I spoke with summed it up like this: if I don’t have to be in an office to serve clients, why not go out on my own and perform the same work for similar clients? Others have always dreamed of working for themselves but felt the risk was just not worth it. And now that most households have two incomes, the benefits outweigh the risk of staying in a job where you are disengaged and unhappy.
This article from the Wall Street Journal sums it up: “The number of unincorporated self-employed workers has risen by 500,000 since the start of the pandemic, Labor Department data show, to 9.44 million. That is the highest total since the financial-crisis year 2008, except for this summer (2021). The total amounts to an increase of 6% in the self-employed, while the overall U.S. employment total remains nearly 3% lower than before the pandemic. Entrepreneurs applied for federal tax-identification numbers to register 4.54 million new businesses from January through October this year (2021), up 56% from the same period of 2019, Census Bureau data show. That was the largest number on records that date back to 2004. Two-thirds were for businesses that aren’t expected to hire employees.”
What are businesses to do?
Notice that most of the reasons people are quitting have nothing to do with pay. While compensation is important, pay is not the primary reason people leave. Employees want healthy workplaces that offer flexibility and autonomy – they want to choose where and when they work. They want to work for companies that value and respect them. People want to work in businesses where customers aren’t abusive and rude. Business leaders must start addressing the root causes of these issues and commit to authentically recreating their culture and relationships with their employees. Those who don’t will be left behind.
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