July 26, 2021

After more than a year into the pandemic, traditional working norms have been upended, and millions of Americans are embracing change by resigning. According to data from the Bureau of Labour Statistics, almost 4 million Americans quit their jobs in April. At this moment, the US is experiencing the highest rate of workers quitting in the last two decades. And even with 9.8 million people struggling to find jobs, the quit rate has still skyrocketed to unprecedented levels—almost 24 per cent higher than it was before Covid-19.

Why is this happening? If anything, the coronavirus has made people more acutely aware of what they want in their career and life, as many suddenly had more time on their hands to pause and reflect. Are the days of a 9-to-5 desk job over? A survey done by IBM indicates that 30 per cent of Americans would quit if they were forced to go back to the office instead of being allowed to work remotely. Prioritising their happiness and mental health seems to be at the forefront of people’s minds and Americans are recognising that a new mindset is needed to improve quality of life. 

Restaurants and hotels received the highest resignations

More than 740,000 people who quit this April worked in the hospitality industry. This comprises jobs in hotels, restaurants, theme parks and various entertainment venues. A recent survey by the United States Department of Labour revealed that the pandemic had caused work to become too stressful—with shortages of manpower, long hours and constantly trying to get customers to abide by social distancing and mask mandates. In a bid to preserve their mental health, many have thrown in the towel. Additionally jobs in the service sector generally don’t pay as well, so many have opted out for (perceived) better opportunities.

Remote working has given people new perspectives

According to Tsedal Neeley, a professor at Harvard Business School and author of the book Remote Work Revolution: Succeeding From Anywhere, the way we think about time and space has changed. Workers now desire the flexibility they had at the nexus of the pandemic, which was previously unheard of. As people got accustomed to working remotely, they started to appreciate the extra pockets of time they could get, like, not having to commute daily, allowing them to discover new hobbies like craft or cooking. However, this creates conflict with some employers. Morgan Stanley’s James Gorman has mentioned that he would be “very disappointed” if workers have not “found their way into the office” by Labor Day.

In this new era, the 9-to-5 desk job isn’t what people want anymore. Employees will either negotiate better arrangements with their manager, or find something elsewhere if their needs are not met. On the flip side, employers need to realise that this wave of resignation shows that more workplace support needs to be put in place. Job seekers also want more empathetic work environments where employers are willing to listen and support them through any problems they encounter.  A Metlife study found that employees in their 20s were looking for more mental and financial health benefits compared to the previous year.

An opportunity for entrepreneurship

Covid-19 has made people realise that job security is a myth. If you work for someone else, your livelihood will always be held hostage by them. In its latest Economic Average Report, Yelp saw 516,754 new business openings from April 1, 2020, through March 31 2021. Almost 28 per cent of it happened from January to March this year. Technological advances have changed the way we shop, eat and communicate; anyone can start a business in their home as long as they have wifi and a laptop.

Which is why in the past year, the number of new startups and businesses has shot up and flourished considerably through the crisis. Sisters Angela Muhwezi-Hall and Deborah Gladney decided to start a hiring platform, called QuickHire, to help service industry and skilled trade workers find jobs. According to Gladney, it was “the perfect moment in time” as businesses were recovering and needed manpower. On the same note, Hyunsook Park and her daughter created an online shop called Posh Blossom selling handmade gifts when her daughter lost her job due to the pandemic.

To quit or not to quit

This great shift is prompting employers to raise wages and offer promotions to keep their talent pool. Economists agree that if workers were more willing to make career switches, this could lead to a more dynamic workforce and higher wages. And if quitting allows Americans to strike a balance between work and life, leaving them more mobile, they will have more opportunities to upgrade their skills. It seems that Americans have realised that remaining stagnant in a job makes them more risk averse and less open to new experiences. At the end of the day, the pandemic has shown them that a job should not run their life.