Workplace

Overworked and underpaid: Why people are quitting their jobs en masse

The Great Resignation is happening for all the reasons you think.

Frustrated worker on a laptop.

A new Pew Research Center survey shares the top reasons people have left their jobs.

Photo: Tim Gouw/Unsplash

2021 was the year Americans quit their jobs in droves, so much so that this period of time got a name: The Great Resignation. Quit rates in the U.S. reached an all-time high in November, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Now we know a little more about why.

The majority of workers who quit their jobs in 2021 cited dissatisfaction with pay, lack of advancement opportunities and feeling disrespected as their top reasons for quitting, according to a Pew Research Center survey released today.

Secondary reasons for quitting included child care issues, limited flexibility of working hours, poor benefits and wanting to relocate.

Worker sentiments aren’t off base. Despite the fact that wage growth is high, record inflation is negating any pay raises U.S. employees are seeing, with overall wages falling 2.4% on average for all workers last year.

There is a silver lining. The survey also found that those who quit are more likely to say that their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and better work-life balance and flexibility than their previous job.

Despite rumors that burned-out quitters were opting out of the workforce entirely, most of the Pew respondents are employed now, especially those with a bachelor’s degree. “Not only were they able to find new jobs, they were able to find jobs that pay more and give them more opportunities,” said associate director of Research Juliana Menasce Horowitz. “They’re finding these opportunities fairly easily,” she added.

While survey responses were similar among men and women, respondents without a college degree and non-white adults were more likely to cite a desire for more flexibility, working too few hours and an employer requiring a COVID-19 vaccine as reasons for quitting.

Of the quitters, younger adults and those with lower incomes were more likely to leave their jobs. 37% of respondents younger than 30 quit, according to Pew.

The analysis from Pew was based on a survey of 6,627 American workers, including 965 who say they left a job by choice last year.

The tech sector’s sentiments largely mirror those of American workers at large, especially on the point of flexibility. In a survey of tech workers over the summer of 2021, 39% told Protocol that they strongly agreed that it’s important for their company to let them work remotely indefinitely.

“Workers really value flexibility,” and it’s even more important to them than other benefits like paid time off, according to Horowitz.

“The days of ‘I’m so lucky to have a job’ are now a case of ‘We are so lucky to have these employees,’” Rhys Hughes, executive talent partner at GV, told Protocol in our manual, “The Great Resignation.”
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