Meet a job quitter who thinks the big quit is a lie
- Like millions of workers, Sharon felt unappreciated in her old role.
- She sought a new job in a boiling job market, but said her new role was always exploitative.
- She found herself between two groups of workers best placed to benefit from the movement.
Sharon thinks the Great Resignation is a lie. And she should know it – she participated in it.
Sharon, who is in her late 30s and has asked that her real names and those of her employers remain anonymous, works in mental health. She has been in the job market for over 20 years.
When the pandemic hit, his workplace — like millions of others — scrambled to move away. She played a leading role in her company’s transition to fully virtual work. But she didn’t feel recognized for it. She received compliments, but not a higher level role. She said it took a toll on her mental health and her personal life.
“I started looking for new positions when it became clear that I wasn’t going to advance,” she told Insider. “I also felt like, as a mom and as a Latina, that I was just put in the back seat.”
It was last fall, when near-record numbers of Americans were quitting, employers were complaining they couldn’t find workers, and wages were rising. All of these things are still true, but an impending economic downturn has also led some companies to freeze hiring or lay off staff because they have their own big regrets about hiring too much.
Sharon said it was “really, really difficult” to find roles she really wanted to do – roles that weren’t “what I had decided to do in the past”.
She experienced one of the flaws in the Great Resignation narrative: some workers were able to quit and find better-paying jobs that better suited their wants and needs, but not all. This is because the power workers have right now is their ability to leave; they depend on employers for everything else. Employers can still be demanding – perhaps just not as much as before.
It may be more difficult than expected to find a better job
When Sharon started looking for work, new jobs seemed ripe for the taking.
“Everyone was saying it’s the Great Quit, it’s the worker’s benefit, you can get a job anywhere,” she said. “So I came in with the mentality of thinking if I’m going to quit now is the time to go.”
But although she felt her resume was relevant to where she was applying, she didn’t get as many callbacks or interviews as she expected.
“I expected more possibilities than maybe in the past, and it just wasn’t happening,” she said.
This may be because Sharon falls between the two groups of workers who have the most options. One such group is what economist Kathryn Anne Edwards has called “white-collar” workers: highly-skilled, high-income workers in high-end services, like software engineers. The other is the lowest-paid workers in industries like retail and restaurants, who went from no power to little more when companies realized they would have to raise wages and make themselves competition for their labor.
Sharon ended up taking the first job that offered her something in her field and checked her basic boxes.
“Honestly, I felt so desperate to leave that I just accepted it,” she said, adding that the culture sounded a bit better and the pay was comparable, if not a bit lower.
Ultimately, she says, she was “confused” by the job search process.
“There was a staff shortage at my old workplace, so I can imagine there are staff shortages in other workplaces,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, I’m qualified here. I actually feel like I’m a good candidate. I’ve done the job. I’ve got the experience. I’m here. I’m here. got that graduate degree.’ – and nothing.”
“It became clear that the environment was not ideal”
Sharon said the pay for her new job ended up being lower than she had expected due to what her employer considers clockwork.
“It’s not a great feeling, not feeling like I can contribute to my family, having to barely live from paycheck to paycheck without a cushion – it’s pretty terrifying right now,” she said.
The big resignation certainly meant pay rises for some job changers. A recent analysis by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of people who changed jobs from April 2021 to March 2022 got a raise. But that means 40% of those switchers didn’t necessarily earn more. This aligns with older findings from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which calculated in 2016 that nearly half of people who change jobs earn less with their new job.
Sharon said she felt regret, concern and skepticism about the power of the great resignation.
In her new role, she finds herself on her own. It’s up to her to find answers to her questions, and she said she felt isolated working remotely from her bedroom. She said she left her old role because she felt discriminated against and exploited and her struggles in her new role felt like betrayal.
“I always feel like I’m being taken advantage of because the pay is so low, and I can’t do anything, and there’s no support,” she said, adding that “it’s is a bit like sinking or swimming” and that she has to do a lot of work just to stay afloat. She said paid and sick leave are minimal.
“If anyone in my family gets sick, including myself, in the midst of COVID, I’m terrified of how I’m going to be able to afford this time off,” she said.
She said she felt trapped after the “roller coaster of emotions” involved in seeking the position. This shows that the solution to employment problems is not necessarily to find a new role.
“I might as well struggle, figure it out here, however unhappy and stressful it is. I don’t know if it’s going to get better anywhere else,” she said. “I guess it’s just me resigning myself to the fact, like, that’s what it is. It’s just the work culture. It’s how it is and how it’s going to be. It’s not okay improve.”
She said fair compensation for workers and restructuring companies for real fairness and justice in the workplace could make a difference. But she added that her “conspiratorial side” tells her the Great Resignation is a “marketing ploy” and that workers will still have to struggle to find a job that matches their worth.
“It’s still not to the benefit of the worker. It never was,” she said. “I don’t know if that will ever be the case. Who knows, maybe if I become my own boss, I can start making those changes. But until then, I feel like the Great Resignation is a lie.”