The Big Quit: How COVID-19 Has Created the Most U.S. Job Openings in History

They're calling it "The Great Resignation." Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs as COVID-19 restrictions ease, leading to more active job openings than ever before. The only question is why?

Guest post by Brynne Labuzan - Content Writer Intern

In 2008, millions of Americans were laid off from their jobs when the global economy crashed. Dubbed "The Great Recession," this period was marked by unprecedented rates of unemployment as many Americans struggled to find work in a barren job market. Fast forward 13 years later to present day, and we find ourselves in a similar situation with very different implications.

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented its own devastating recession in 2020, the effect it has had on employment has been vastly different than that of the Great Recession in 2008. In the height of the pandemic, mandatory stay-at-home orders and mass closures put more than 1 billion people out of work globally. When vaccines became widely available in early 2021 and transmission rates finally began to decrease, a fascinating trend emerged amongst the unemployed.

While many who lost their jobs during the COVID-19 pandemic were given the opportunity to return to work, a staggering number of these workers elected to remain unemployed. And for those who did return to their jobs, many decided to quit shortly thereafter. According to Bloomberg, there are nearly 11 million U.S. job openings today, exceeding the 8.4 million unemployed, and dwarfing new hires. So, what’s going on? After a period of such economic uncertainty, why are we now choosing to leave our jobs at such unprecedented rates? Let’s talk about what many are calling “The Great Resignation” and figure out what it means for you.

So what's up with everyone quitting their jobs?

There has been a plethora of proposed explanations for this mysterious trend in employment (or lack thereof). Some point to the COVID-19 virus and its variants for making workers cautious of returning to work. Others suggest geographic disparities and low wages. Many argue that government stimulus checks and federal unemployment bonuses have allowed workers the financial freedom to wait to find a job of their liking. While all these theories are entirely plausible, they may overlook the real issue at hand when it comes to employee satisfaction in a post-COVID world.

While the COVID-19 pandemic was a global tragedy with few silver linings, it served as a poignant period of reflection for many. Forced to stay at home for months at a time, many of us found ourselves looking inward. It felt as though the pandemic put the world on pause, and we finally had the chance to take a step back and reassess.

 For many, this meant acknowledging the dissatisfaction they felt in their career. According to a recent Gallup poll, a higher percentage of workers than ever, nearly three-quarters, feel disengaged with their jobs. In another survey featured in Forbes, 67 percent of respondents said their burnout had gotten worse during the pandemic. This data offers us a new perspective on the Great Resignation – perhaps it is not a response to the COVID-19 pandemic itself but instead to the staggering levels of occupational burnout that it brought to light.

In a society focused on productivity, frequent work-related stress is alarmingly commonplace despite the immense toll it takes on an individual’s health and wellbeing. This phenomenon is often referred to as occupational burnout, which Psychology Today defines as “a state of emotional, mental, and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.” Burnout is one the major red flags of career dissatisfaction. Unfortunately, it continues to affect individuals long after their workday is over. Consumed by stress, those suffering from occupational burnout often find it challenging to engage in home life fully, and many find that their relationships suffer as a result.

Considering the effect that burnout can impose on home life, it makes perfect sense why the implications of COVID-19 yielded an unprecedented number of employees resigning from their jobs. For the first time in a long time, we were finally able to put work on the back burner and prioritize other aspects of our lives. Many of us began putting effort into relationships we had previously neglected and reengaging with hobbies and interests we had once abandoned. However, when mandates were lifted and reality came knocking, it became clear that there was a choice to be made. We could either return to work and accept the limitations it would impose on our recently improved home life or choose to remain unemployed. That is until we find a career that allows for a healthy work-life balance. Unsurprisingly, the latter was the clear choice for the millions of Americans who participated in the Great Resignation.

Who says history has to repeat itself?

In 2008, the United States saw a hemorrhaging of jobs in the midst of one the worst unemployment crises in history. During the Great Recession, millions of laid-off Americans had no choice but to accept any work they could get with little regard for work-life balance. While we have just endured an economic crisis of arguably equal proportion, we are emerging on the other side with the upper hand this time. Unlike the Great Recession, the pandemic has allowed for a long-overdue shift in power between employers and employees. With more job openings than ever before, employees today have the freedom to find a career that suits our individual needs. We no longer have to settle for a misaligned career out of fear that we won't be able to find work elsewhere. At long last, we have the power to weigh our options and find a career that suits our passions, interests, and values.

If you're like literally every person on planet earth, these past two years have been challenging to say the least. The all-encompassing implications of COVID-19 affected each and every one of our lives in one way or another. Through the many hardships, we are approaching the light at the end of the tunnel with a newfound appreciation for our worth as employees and, more importantly, human beings. We all deserve to find a career that fulfills us and nourishes the many other important facets of our lives. While the past two years have dealt their fair share of bad luck, we have never been in a better position to discover our dream career. So even if you are currently employed, don't be afraid to take a look at what's out there! Whether that means browsing LinkedIn or talking through your options with a career coach, there are 11 million job opportunities waiting to be explored. You never know; you may just end up stumbling upon your own light at the end of the tunnel.


Want to learn more?

Don’t forget to check back next week for our curated list of tips-and-tricks to help you take full advantage of the Great Resignation. Whether you’re just starting your career or looking to make a change, there has never been a better time than now to start exploring your career possibilities!

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