Future of Work

The Great Resignation continues. Why are US workers continuing to quit their jobs?

Official statistics appear to confirm that the Great Resignation is continuing.

Official statistics appear to confirm that the Great Resignation is continuing. Image: Unsplash/seanpollock

Stefan Ellerbeck
Senior Writer, Forum Agenda
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  • Around 4 million Americans – or 2.6% of the workforce – quit their jobs in October 2022, according to official statistics.
  • Workers in the hospitality and leisure sector left their jobs at more than twice the average rate.
  • The data appears to confirm that the Great Resignation is continuing.
  • Most workers who quit their jobs in 2021 cited low pay, no advancement opportunities or feeling disrespected as the reasons for doing so.

If you’ve quit your job in the last year or two, then you’re part of what’s become known as the Great Resignation.

It’s the term coined in 2021 to describe the record number of people in some advanced economies who have left their jobs since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

And this mass shake-up of the workforce is continuing, according to the latest data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Around 4 million Americans quit their jobs in October 2022, which is 2.6% of the workforce, it says. This is similar to recent months, after hitting a record 4.5 million workers in November 2021.

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The hospitality and leisure industry had the highest number of people leaving their jobs among the major industries in October 2022, at 5.5%, the BLS says. The quit rate in the transportation, warehousing and utilities industry was 2.8%, and in the construction industry it rose to 2.4% from 2% a month earlier.

The US quit rate during the Great Resignation was higher in the leisure and hospitality industry in October 2022 than in any other sector.
The US quit rate during the Great Resignation was higher in the leisure and hospitality industry in October 2022 than in any other sector. Image: BLS

Why is measuring the ‘quit rate’ important?

The BLS says the quit rate is a measure of “generally voluntary separations initiated by the employee… as a percent of total employment”. This means it serves as “a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs”.

The quit rate is derived from the Bureau's monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS). The data has been collected since 2000 from a nationwide sample of employers on a voluntary basis, and includes “employment, job openings, hires, quits, layoffs and discharges, and other separations”.

The data provides important information about the labour market, and serves “as demand-side indicators of labour shortages at the national and state level”.

What does the quit rate tell us about the Great Resignation?

A record of more than 47 million workers quit their jobs in the United States last year. But the reasons behind the Great Resignation are complex.

The BLS Monthly Labor Review published an article in July 2022 that looked into the spike in the 2021 quit rate. It said that modelling around a tight labour market (when there are fewer workers than available jobs) couldn’t fully explain the phenomenon.

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However, the research found that the sectors with the highest quit rates included the retail trade, accommodation and food services, healthcare and social assistance. It says “this finding is partly consistent with a recent study by the Pew Research Center, according to which most workers who quit their jobs in 2021 cited low pay, no advancement opportunities, and feeling disrespected as the main reasons for their resignations”.

The article concluded that more research is needed to explore other explanations for the high quit rate, including “pandemic-related factors such as increased stimulus payments, health concerns, childcare issues and changing attitudes toward work”.

Workers are quitting industries, not just jobs

Research in Australia, Canada, India, Singapore, the United Kingdom as well as the United States by McKinsey has also shed some light on workers' reasons for quitting.

Top of the survey’s findings were lack of career development or advancement, inadequate pay, and uncaring and uninspiring leaders. However, large numbers of respondents also cited possible pandemic-related reasons such as limited workplace flexibility and a lack of support for health and well-being.

Lack of career development and advancement is a big reason for people leaving their jobs amid the Great Resignation.
Lack of career development and advancement is a big reason for people leaving their jobs amid the Great Resignation. Image: McKinsey

The survey also revealed that a majority of employees that quit their jobs between April 2020 and April 2022 did not return to the same industry they left. The McKinsey researchers say they believe that attitudes towards work have changed.

“It’s the quitting trend that just won’t quit. People are switching jobs and industries, moving from traditional to non-traditional roles, retiring early, or starting their own businesses,” McKinsey says. “They are taking time-out to tend to their personal lives or embarking on sabbaticals. The Great Attrition has become the Great Renegotiation.”

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