We’ve all heard of The Great Resignation – a by-product of 2020.
It refers to the sudden spike in Americans voluntarily quitting their jobs.
In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics over 47 million people voluntarily quit their jobs in 2021 alone. And according to Zippia, the trend has continued throughout 2022 with an average of 4 million Americans leaving their jobs each month.
In fact, this year’s numbers may be even higher than the last by year-end. And staffing shortages continue to be a problem throughout the country.
But why is everyone quitting all of a sudden? And when will things to “back to normal”?
Why are people still quitting their jobs?
Publications like The Pew Research Center often cite surveys where respondents offer typical reasons like low pay, flexibility, child care issues, burnout, mental health and lack of advancement opportunities.
And as someone who rage quit her job before it was trendy back in 2017, I can confidently say that all of these factors played a role in my decision.
But have you ever wondered – why are these issues just now cropping up for millions of Americans all at once in record numbers?
I believe, the answers actually lie, in human behavior psychology.
1. Post-traumatic growth
While there are a variety of reasons why so many people are quitting their jobs at once, many are experiencing a phenomenon referred to as post-traumatic growth.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Speaking of Psychology podcast, it’s can be normal for people who have suffered trauma to “develop a new appreciation of life, newfound personal strength, see an improvement in their relationships, see new possibilities in life and undergo spiritual changes”.
Whether it be an event in your personal life like divorce or illness, a jarring event in your professional career like a demotion or, ya know, a pandemic, traumatic events often cause people to reevaluate their lives.
It’s natural, for many, to seek growth – often in the form of change – as a way of avoiding a similar future tragedy and seek coping mechanisms to provide some relief (or distraction) from the tragedies that plague them.
And naturally, there’s no better way to transform one’s life than with a major career change.
2. A shift in social norms
When I quit my last salaried job in 2017 my parents thought I was crazy. My husband James however, was fully supportive.
You see he, unlike myself, was raised by a family of entrepreneurs.
James helped normalize the idea that individuals don’t need a boss or a traditional job to be happy or find success. He normalized, and actively encouraged my breaking away from the pack. He led by example and showed me that it was “okay” to go out on my own.
But it’s safe to say the vast majority of Americans didn’t have a James in their lives – at least, not until recently.
Now everybody knows somebody who made a major career change or started their own business – and it’s creating a domino effect across the nation.
According to an article in Psychology Today, there’s a science behind how we take cues from our environment, specifically, other people.
The article references a study where a group of children with a fear of dogs was asked to watch another child happily play with a dog for 20 minutes a day for four days. After the four-day period, 67% of the children who watched the boy play were willing to enter the playpen with the dog. Watching the little boy have fun with the dog reduced their fear and provided a model to change their own behaviors and challenge their own beliefs.
Similarly, people who once assumed it was “dangerous” or “scary” to pursue a major career change now have a model for this behavior as it becomes more normalized with each passing day.
3. An acquired taste for freedom
Finally, there’s the fact that once you get a taste for freedom – it’s hard to go back.
And freedom took on many forms for people in 2020.
Many employees were temporarily furloughed. Many made the switch to remote work or were forced to work from home.
This left many workers with extra time on their hands that they’d never had before.
For some, this meant discovering a better work-life balance and being present for their families. Others took the opportunity to launch their own businesses or dabble in side gigs and self-employment.
So naturally, when things started going “back to normal” and workers were asked to return to their full-time jobs and/or return to the office, some felt like this was going backward, and started making demands.
Afterall, why would anyone want to give up that new found freedom for nothing?
They wanted flexible hours, hybrid work (part-time in-person, part-time remote), higher wages and promotions. Some simply opted to walk away entirely.
I can speak from personal experience on this one.
It’s been five years since I walked away from my last salaried job.
Since that time, I’ve launched multiple small businesses, more than doubled my income and gained complete freedom over my schedule.
I wake up most days at 9 am. I go for a walk around 10 am. Sometimes I don’t even start my “work day” til 11 am. And I can take as many days off as I please.
There isn’t enough money in the world for me to trade the freedom I’ve gained during that time to return to a traditional office and give a boss that kind of control over me again.
Once you’ve tasted freedom, it’s hard to go back into the cage.
Did you recently quit your job? Why do you think people are quitting in droves? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.