In August, more than 4 million workers quit their jobs – marking the fifth month in a row of record quits.
It’s a trend that’s only accelerated and shows no signs of stopping as the pandemic continues on.
Workers are likely quitting over work conditions, pay, the virus itself, or rethinking their own lives.
The number of people quitting reached yet another record high in August, with about 4.3 million Americans leaving their jobs behind – especially in retail, food services, and hospitality.
That means nearly 3% of the US workforce quit in August, according to Tuesday’s data release from the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Summary. It’s the fifth month in a row that broke the record and the highest since the BLS started collecting this data in 2001.
Employers scrambling to hire and bemoaning labor shortages likely won’t see relief as, workers show no sign of stopping one of the pandemic’s hottest trend: Quitting your job.
Even as the country added a paltry 366,000 jobs in August – far below economists’ expectations – and an equally dismal 194,000 jobs in September, workers seemed to have no qualms about leaving the jobs they already had. Those smaller gains were driven by the rise of the Delta variant, as the pandemic’s stronghold on the economy and employment continued with increasingly high case loads. But they also signal that workers are increasingly exercising their power and feel comfortable quitting – which isn’t a bad thing economically.
That tracks with who’s quitting: It seems that low-paid, mostly in-person roles saw the largest number of workers quitting. For example, departures were driven by workers leaving accommodations and food services, where the number of workers quitting reached their own series high; the quits rate in that industry was 6.8%, over double the average rate across all industries.
Retail trade also saw its own series high, with the quits rate coming in at 4.7%. Both industries rely heavily on in-person service, which has taken its own dip during the pandemic, and both have struggled with anecdotal labor shortages. Many workers require more – whether it’s benefits, higher wages, or better working conditions – to put their lives on the line for those roles, economists have told Insider.
A survey of 2,099 respondents by jobs site Joblist found that nearly three-quarters of all respondents were thinking about leaving their jobs during July, August or September, Insider’s Grace Dean and Madison Hoff reported. That number was the highest for hospitality workers, with 77% thinking about quitting.
Workers quitting can also lead to cyclical short staffing, causing burnout amongst remaining workers. A September note from Bank of America researchers said that some employers were addressing the labor shortage by simply leaning more on the workers they have. But, as the report’s authors wrote, “this is not sustainable: you can only speed up the treadmill for so long.”
So why’s everyone quitting?
There’s no one answer as to why workers are turning their backs on jobs. Tuesday’s data release doesn’t capture people who are job switching out of one industry into another or into a higher paying role, as Indeed economist Nick Bunker pointed out on Twitter.
The number of people not working due to either caring for themselves or someone else sick with coronavirus symptoms skyrocketed over the summer. To make matters worse, childcare centers have been closing again due to increased case loads.
In August, Daniel Zhao, a senior economist at Glassdoor, told Insider that 3.7 million more people would have quit if there’d been no pandemic – those “missing quits” have continually shrunk as workers leave in droves and make up for lost time.
And then there’s the more existential answer. Organizational psychologist Anthony Klotz, who came up with the phrase the “Great Resignation,” previously told Insider that humans step back and ask existential questions when they come in close contact with death and illness – something tragically abundant throughout the pandemic. That can lead to “life pivots.”
“One hopefully silver lining of this horrible pandemic would be if the world of work transitioned to a more healthy, sustainable place for employee wellbeing,” Klotz said.