‘An unbelievable sense of freedom’: why Americans are quitting in record numbers

Josie, 19, landed her first “adult” job as an IT support worker last November, just a few months after graduating from high school. Though the job could be done fully remotely, managers insisted that she come into the office – despite the pandemic. All'inizio, her co-workers and managers wore masks, but often incorrectly; when the local mask mandate was lifted, people stopped wearing them altogether.

“It was honestly scary,” Josie recalls. She’d just moved into her first apartment with her partner; both have pre-existing health conditions that increase their vulnerability to severe illness from Covid-19. But as the sole earner in her two-person household, Josie felt resigned to the daily risk at work.

“It was like getting shot out of a cannon into adulthood," lei dice.

This August amid the rise of the Delta variant, she finally quit – becoming one of the 4.3 million American workers to voluntarily leave their jobs during that month alone. It was a record-breaking month for resignations since the government began tracking monthly job turnovers more than two decades ago, according to labor department data rilasciato in mid-October. Between January and August of this year, almeno 30 million Americans quit their jobs.

Whether you call it the “Great Resignation” or a “nationwide reassessment of work”, the labor market shake-up of the pandemic could have unexpected aftershocks for years to come. That may be especially true for early-career workers like Josie, who have now spent a major chunk of their working lives under the strain of Covid-19.

Many of these workers say their job experiences in the pandemic have led them to recognize their real priorities in life – and leaving a job is perhaps the boldest assertion of those priorities they can make.

“I never imagined it would happen this way, but here I am,” says Alex, a 27-year-old marketing professional who had worked at the same Boston-based consumer tech startup since she graduated from college until early October, when she resigned from the company via email.

Pre-pandemic, the company’s culture was relaxed. But the switch to fully remote work in March 2020 was swiftly followed by a sharp boom in product sales. Over time, an “always on” work culture crept in as a result, with co-workers communicating at all hours. When a colleague left the company, Alex’s workload doubled with no additional pay.

“I just felt like I couldn’t let things go, perché [the company was] really small," lei dice. “If anyone were to leave, it just seemed impossible.”

Alex reached out to teammates for help, only to discover that they were just as burned out as she was. But because this was the only job she’d ever had, she didn’t initially recognize that the extent of her overwork – and her sense of personal obligation to the business – were not necessarily normal or healthy. Questo è, until she talked to others outside the company.

Quitting has been more than a relief. “It gave me this unbelievable sense of freedom that I could do whatever I wanted, and made things so much clearer,” says Alex, speaking from her parents’ home near Washington.

She plans to spend a few months relaxing with family before finding a new job, possibly in non-profit work. She has also begun revisiting long-deferred plans to pursue a graduate degree in public administration – plans that were easy to neglect in the face of an ever-mounting workload.

Like Alex, 28-year-old Cassie also experienced a pandemic burnout in her role as a case manager for a life insurance company in central Pennsylvania. A visual artist by training, Cassie joined the firm in July 2019 after a stint doing freelance graphic design work. It wasn’t her dream job, but the stability was a nice change at first.

Then in the second half of 2020, her workload multiplied seemingly overnight. Before long, Cassie was fielding more work calls than any single person could handle. Work became so all-consuming that she converted her home studio space, originally set up for unwinding and making art, into a makeshift home office.

"[La pandemia] turned this space for good times into work times, and eventually bad times,” Cassie recalls.

While she remains grateful to have had the ability to work from home in 2020, losing the time and space for a creative outlet was a blow. A few weeks ago, she opted to leave the job for good. Thanks to a salaried live-in partner and some personal savings, she feels fortunate to have a “coasting budget” to live from while she explores what comes next. She hopes to find a job that’s both creative and stable.

For 27-year-old Lloren Zeigler, quitting was a way to regain control of her time. Leaving her job as a television production manager, last December, was easy. “They wanted me to work through the holiday and I said abso-fucking-lutely not,” says Zeigler.

Since walking away from her entertainment industry role nearly a year ago, the Los Angeles-based Zeigler has devoted herself full-time to the small business she began in 2020 with her partner, Liz Sanchez. The pair make incense that they sell at local swap meets and flea markets under the brand Le Trois Apothecary. It may or may not become a forever-job, but Zeigler appreciates the opportunity to nurture her entrepreneurial streak.

Nancy, 30, a PR professional who also lives in Los Angeles, similarly resigned from her job for the greener pastures of self-employment. Working remotely during quarantine, she realized that she didn’t need to rely on a hovering boss to be productive and do work that she could feel good about. In ottobre, she left her position at a small recording company after just three months – her second time quitting a job during the pandemic.

“My job is not my life,” Nancy says. “My life is my life and my job is my job. I’m willing to take on the uncertainty [of unemployment] simply to have my own time under control, and have my own life available to me.”

While Nancy remains open to the possibility of another full-time role, she says that a prospective employer would need to respect her boundaries and trust her to manage her own schedule. For the time being, she plans to pursue freelance music marketing projects and related project management.

Josie, the 19-year-old in Ohio, is similarly protective of her personal boundaries in a work setting. Since quitting, she’s found a new job doing similar work for a different company. Questa volta, tuttavia, the position is fully remote.

Though she isn’t sure where her future will lead, Josie says she now knows what her rights are as a worker. They include the right to leave a job without remorse.

“Companies don’t care about me, either," lei dice.

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