By Ian Sherr and Erin Carson
Like so many other people, Josh Feldman found his work life changing when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Isolation at home with family became the norm, even while he continued working at the job he loved as the vice president of leadership and student experiences at Hillel International, a Jewish nonprofit organization.
He adjusted for a while, just as millions of others did. But eventually, the change unexpectedly forced him to confront just how burned out he was.
Despite his employer’s efforts to offer flexible working hours, Feldman was working constantly. He’d often wade into email as soon as he woke up and stayed there after his kids went to bed. He tried to make things better by integrating regular walks into his workday, but he still struggled with overwork. And as the pandemic stretched on and the return-to-the-office date receded further into the future, the 40-year-old father of three kids under age 10 started thinking about what might come next.
“I had been working in an unsustainable way for a long time,” he said. “This stuff is not easy to change.”
Finally, in August, he chose a more radical shift. Feldman left his good, stable job to start a nonprofit of his own. And he wasn’t alone.
Americans have been quitting their jobs by the millions over the past year, jumping from one company to another in record numbers, often for better pay if they’re low-wage workers, or better benefits if they’re in white-collar jobs. They may be switching because their previous employer tried to drag them back into the office, while a competitor allowed them to continue working remotely. Or they simply wanted a change.
Whatever the reason, this great resignation, as some have called it, is quickly remaking what it means to work in America. For some, that means rethinking their careers. For others, it’s a spiritual awakening, with a renewed commitment to a healthier balance between work and home. Some people moved away from big cities while working remotely during the pandemic, and now they don’t want to move back. Others are finding plentiful opportunities for jobs they can perform anywhere, whereas before the only jobs they could find were near where they lived.
“People are reassessing their lives,” said Andy Challenger, senior vice president at outplacement firm Challenger Gray and Christmas. And it’s showing up in all kinds of ways.
Recruiters, who typically struggle to get candidates to even hear an offer for a new job, are encountering little resistance. Meanwhile, seasoned office workers like Feldman are pushing change even further, taking the leap to start their own business.
Experts say all of this will likely continue far into 2022 and beyond.
Already, the numbers are staggering. Last April, the number of people who quit their job in a single month hit 3.8 million, an all-time record, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. In August, it hit 4.2 million. And then September, 4.3 million. In November, it hit a record again of 4.5 million.
It all comes at a time of record low unemployment claims. In November, the Bureau of Labor Statistics counted the lowest number in more than half a century. And even still, there are nearly 11 million open jobs out there.
“We’re in this really big period of flux right now where the pandemic has given people some options and forced people to stop and rest,” said Rahaf Harfoush, author of Hustle and Float: Reclaim your Creativity and Thrive in a World Obsessed with Work. “What we’re starting to see right now is — what I’m hoping is — the redrawing of boundaries, where people are saying ‘I no longer want to sacrifice myself so completely for a job.'”