The New Work ‘Ideal’ – “I Quit”

I quit

The pandemic changed my life. For the better. I know that is a dreadful thing to say knowing that countless families are in mourning over loved ones and people are still suffering worldwide as countries scramble to vaccinate their citizens. I was lucky in that I never got sick and as soon as the infection rate in California started to spike in March 2020 the public school district that I worked for went on home learning and stayed there until March of 2021. 

I was able through accommodation to remain on remote work through the end of this school year. And therein lies the rub. After working from home for one year I realized that I could not go back inside. “Inside”, as if I was watching an episode of crime TV and the asserted “inside” were the walls of a prison.  I wanted to extend my parole. Work from home suits my 67 year-old disposition, stamina and desire to have more agency over my day. And for a job that still required freelance work between the hours of sleep and wake to supplement a modest income, when an opportunity to take retirement was presented I tucked my teary-eyed sentimentality to one side and told myself there is a life after ‘retirement’ much more aligned with my true self and so I decided to move on. Doors are opening. And I can exhale – no pun intended – the cannabis smoke I spent over a decade hiding and a passion for plant medicine and psychedelic healing. 

It seems this is a trend – people changing jobs, quitting jobs, a post pandemic exit from the toil of clock in at 8 and the job owns your body on site for the next seven hours or so. That precious time better be time well spent – economically and immeasurably. The age of job re-alignment is surging as the virus is receding. People want more out of a job and life.  If they can’t have it on the job they are in then they might as well quit and take their chances on the open market leaving their employers to scramble. 

“More U.S. workers are quitting their jobs than at any time in at least two decades, signaling optimism among many professionals while also adding to the struggle companies face trying to keep up with the economic recovery.”

Almost “4 million people quit their jobs in April” yet many companies cannot fill job openings. 

“Many companies big and small say it’s hard to find qualified workers. A record 48% of small businesses, for instance, said they could not fill open jobs in April.”

 What is happening? Are people choosing not to work? Is there a pilgrimage to a utopian world where everyone’s needs are taken care of? If so, I did not get that memo! 

“The wave of resignations marks a sharp turn from the darkest days of the pandemic, when workers craved job security while weathering a national health and economic crisis. In April, the share of U.S. workers leaving jobs was 2.7%, according to the Labor Department, a jump from 1.6% a year earlier to the highest level since at least 2000.”

“The shift by workers into new jobs and careers is prompting employers to raise wages and offer promotions to keep hold of talent. The appetite for change by employees indicates many professionals are feeling confident about jumping ship for better prospects, despite elevated unemployment rates.”

Maybe it has something to do with faith. Is it possible the pandemic in all its misery and fear also created a sense of faith in people as well? If they can come through the worst of it and live through a plague then they can find a job that makes them happier and employers who are more appreciative of them as human capital? And  if it’s not faith, as there are those who don’t travel the faith route, maybe there are those who just want to be happy with what they spend the better part of their day doing. When a job is dispiriting, that is a trickle down effect that ends up ruining the rest of one’s life. 

“While a high quit rate stings employers with greater turnover costs, and in some cases, business disruptions, labor economists said churn typically signals a healthy labor market as people gravitate to jobs more suited to their skills, interests and personal lives.”

Where are all these ‘quits’ coming from? Are people just arbitrarily saying “I’m over this” and how are they living absent that utopian society I’m scanning my emails for the memo on? There are a combination of factors actually. A utopian society not being one of them unless unemployment insurance can be considered quasi utopia for as long as it lasts. I touched upon some of the points above in my musings. 

“The surprising difficulty in getting people to return to work is tied to a number of problems, economists say. They blame a wave of early retirements, a lack of child-care options, a lingering fear of the coronavirus and generous unemployment benefits.”

“Workers in industries that typically have a high level of turnover, such as retail, warehousing and food service, quit in large numbers. Professional and business services — a catch-all category that includes many of the country’s office jobs — saw the second-highest surge in quits, with 94,000 more workers leaving their jobs in April than in March.”

There is more according to human resource experts. And it has to do with happiness. Maybe the idea of faith is not that far off. Or at least the idea that a job should not ruin one’s life. 

“Anthony Klotz, a professor of management at Texas A&M’s Mays Business School, has researched the psychology of quitting for much of his career. He said the numbers point to pent-up demand for a change. After a year of unprecedented stress, workers are also burned out and reexamining how to live their lives. “People have had epiphanies over the past year,” Klotz said. “We all want to pursue life, liberty and happiness, and many of us have realized our job isn’t the best way to get there.”

“At the same time, the booming stock market, reduced expenses under lockdown, extended unemployment benefits and financial stimulus have meant that segments of the workforce have healthy savings accounts — or at least less debt to worry about if they take the plunge.”

With that the top reason people have taken for the exit in droves is the same reason I am – I can’t go back ‘inside’ – and in a school environment there is no more remote/hybrid option once classes resume in the fall and so I made the decision to take the plunge  before I got too much older. I’m opting for ‘happy’ with a sprinkle of life and liberty. 

“Brett Wells, director of people analytics at Perceptyx, a company that works with a number of Fortune 500 companies to survey employee opinion and sentiment, said his firm keeps close tabs on whether employees are thinking of quitting. “When an employee tells you they’re going to leave, they do,” Wells said. “We’ve seen that spike, for a variety of reasons.”

“The top reason for wanting to leave, Wells said, is the desire for flexibility, both in hours and the ability to work from home. “That’s at the forefront as offices start to go back,” Wells said. “If organizations don’t meet those demands, we’re going to see people vote with their feet.”

“Wells said that higher echelons of management tend to be stuck on the idea of “office-ism”: that in-person work is intangibly superior. That attitude shows up in corporate leadership regardless of the age or generational cohort of leaders, according to Perceptyx research.”

Although there is a segment of workers that do want the in-person experience and that is the Gen-Z. They are born after the millennials in the mid to upper 1990s and into the 2010s. They will learn, it’s not what it’s cracked up to be as soon as they get married, older, or have a commute. My apologies for the cynicism but it’s just what it is. ‘Daily’ has a way of getting dreary. Read on. 

“After the executive ranks, Gen Z workers — those in the first few years of their careers — are the most likely to want to return to the office, Wells said. Despite being full digital natives, these younger workers say in surveys that they’re the most afraid of missing out on professional development by working remotely.”

Working mothers have dropped out of the workforce in large numbers. The juggle of children, school, and work presents a gender question that should truly not place women at a disadvantage in the workforce compared to their male counterparts but must create an opportunity for companies to accommodate and shift the way work is done so that women maintain the voice that is required for equity and fair play. 

“One group in particular has already dropped out of the workforce in record numbers: working mothers.”

“We’ve seen them mass exit in much larger waves,” in both front-line and senior leadership positions, Wells said, as the demands of juggling parenting, teaching and working from home ratchet higher. Regardless of parental status, Perceptyx has also found that men are more enthusiastic about returning to the office, with women expressing a desire to go back in one fewer day per week on average than their male peers.”

This is just the beginning of a new way of thinking about work. Work is not the end all. It’s a means to an end. The pandemic is still on our heels as states are just figuring out recovery, re-openings, and mask mandates.  

“But this summer may just represent a continuation of trends that have been building for years, said Tami Simon, who leads the global consulting business at the benefits and HR consulting firm Segal.”

“I think we sometimes have the tendency to oversimplify these issues,” Simon said. Demographic shifts in the American workforce mean that just as baby boomers are starting to leave the workforce in larger numbers, millennials are hitting their prime working years, when they have the most job mobility of their careers.”

“The good news is organizations are great at innovating, but they need to be as innovative in terms of how they manage and retain employees as they are in the core of their business,” said Texas A&M professor Klotz.

“Based on conversations he’s had with people this year, he believes we may see a shift toward shorter workweeks as employers try to accommodate shifting demands. “A number of people don’t want to work 40 hours a week, they want to do 20 or 30, with the understanding that there’s less pay,” Klotz said. “You might think, ‘Oh, these are millennials who don’t want to work as much,’ but a lot of people I talk to are people near retirement, saying they could work another 10 years at 30 hours, but not 40.”

Understood. I’m in the latter category and see myself generating income 25-30ish hours a week – but from home as a base rather than being ruled by the bell. 

“Klotz has also seen some companies shift to offering annual month long sabbaticals to avoid burnout and sees offering more flexible work-from-home arrangements as part of a retention strategy.”

“From a research standpoint, one of our fundamental needs as human beings is the need for autonomy,” Klotz said. Employers demanding a return to in-person work are “asking us to give up this fundamental need we’ve had satisfied during the pandemic” by working at home.”

So if you’re on the cusp of that love/hate relationship with your job and are seriously wanting to quit you are not alone. “The great resignation” is what economists are dubbing it.

It seems it is no longer a stigma to be looking for a job without a job. 

“There are now a record 9.3 million open jobs in America, Axios’ Felix Salmon reports.” 

Happy hunting. Maybe utopia is closer than we think.

Author: Sherri Margolin (Dark Matters)

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