In the wake of the pandemic-induced economic meltdown, Greg, a 33-year-old investment customer service specialist in California, found working at a financial brokerage firm to be more intense and draining than he ever expected. And so, it wasn’t long before he quit.
As it turns out, he was part of a tsunami of such resignations. For four consecutive months this summer, roughly 4 million American workers quit their job (the typical monthly number is around 2.5 million). In fact, in August, nearly 3 percent of the entire American workforce walked off the job. This massive turnover has become known as “The Great Resignation,” and it’s left labor experts debating what exactly is causing such a mass exodus and if it will spark an unprecedented social realignment in the way Americans value work.
To get more of a (former) 9-to-5 perspective, I reached out to a trio of guys who recently left their jobs to find out why they up and quit and how they’re feeling about that decision now.
‘There were much better uses for my time out there’
Greg, 33, California: Because of the pandemic, customers were often keeping us on the phone much longer than usual, out of loneliness or because they were in very financially precarious positions. Nevertheless, the company maintained that we should keep calls short — 30 seconds at best, two minutes at most.
One day, after a series of very stressful calls with desperate people, my manager laid into me for not keeping the calls under three minutes. It’s practically impossible to answer any investment-related inquiry in that span of time, and that was my breaking point. I started squirreling away all of the money I could. When I had enough money to quit, I waited for my manager to pull me into another virtual meeting to reprimand me. But before he could say anything, I told him, “I’m sure this was going to be a great meeting, but you can save it because I’m quitting.”
He turned pale and tried to instill that “you’re lucky to be working here right now” nonsense, but I just let him know that there were much better uses for my time out there. Today, I’m taking remote classes with UCLA Extension in pursuit of a career in design. I’m also recording music on the side with my band. Life is a lot better.
‘I was able to get perspective on how tired I’d become and how strongly I dreaded going back’
Steve Benson, 45, California: After 20 years in the restaurant industry, from bartender to general manager, I’d had thoughts of walking away but always stayed because I liked our team, I was really good at my job, I had bills to pay and we were very busy.
But then the pandemic hit and I was able to get some perspective on just how tired I’d grown of the guests and the work, and how strongly I dreaded going back. During the pandemic, my expenses dropped and I was able to pay off my credit cards and refinance my car. The government boost allowed me to initially take a part-time job to learn the cannabis industry, which is something I always wanted to get into because of the growth potential. I don’t know that I would have had the will to do that in January of 2020.
So before the restaurant reopened, I put in my resignation and took a job for a major cannabis vape company in Los Angeles, where I now run a 10-person team at the distribution warehouse. Since leaving the restaurant business, I’ve lost 50 pounds. I quit drinking every night, and I see my family on weekends. My blood pressure is now normal. While I still don’t make quite as much as I used to, I don’t give a shit. I know that in a year, I’ll be making more than I ever did in hospitality. What’s more, I’m happier than I’ve been in 10 years.
‘The dehumanizing micromanagement was inconvenient for sure, but the nasty off-hours text from my manager sealed the deal’
“Jay,” aka u/hestolemysmile on Reddit: Before the pandemic, I worked as a packer at a healthy living fulfillment center — putting stuff the warehouse pickers grabbed for online orders into a box for shipping. We got three paid 15-minute breaks throughout the day and a 30-minute unpaid lunch. They expected us to stay at our station until the bell rang, and be back before the bell rang again. Every hour, there’d be updates on how efficiently you were picking orders or packing boxes.
I’d gotten an accommodation request from my doctor to sit on a stool while packing because my left foot has two broken bones in it, and standing all day was excruciating. Sitting on the stool actually made me way more productive, but then one night I received this text from my manager:
It absolutely infuriated me. The short breaks and dehumanizing micromanagement were inconvenient for sure, but the text at home after I’d worked a long day being very productive sealed the deal. We had enough money to support ourselves for a couple months. I haven’t picked up work yet, but it’s been nice to spend more time with my family.
Overall, I’m so proud to be a part of this movement. I hope more and more people recognize their worth — and recognize that they do deserve to be treated well by their employers.