The Great Resignation Doesn't Mean Being Unemployed. Is it for you?

Fed up with your job and ready to quit and join The Great Resignation? Make sure it’s the right move before you make a meme-worthy move.

Written by Christiana Sciaudone / May 30, 2022

Quick Bites

  • After more than two pandemic years you’re probably feeling burned out. You may also be lacking in job satisfaction, feeling the need for purpose and ready to quit your day job.
  • Quitting doesn't mean giving up work. It may mean new full- or part-time work, gig jobs, going out on your own or even building your own company.
  • Experts caution that joining the so-called Great Resignation is not for everyone, so hold the phone before digging up the right resignation meme for you (in fact, no matter how much you hate your boss or colleagues, we recommend keeping it above board).

When you've had it up to here with your boss and can't take another minute of being derided and abused, or maybe you’re just bored and ready to move on, there's nothing that feels so good as saying "I'm out," mic drop and taking off.

The temptation is even greater when you’re constantly bombarded with stories about the millions of people joining "The Great Resignation," the term used to describe the recent exodus even as employers across the economy scramble to fill vacant positions.

Just because people are giving up their jobs, doesn’t mean they are sitting around twiddling their thumbs. Many are building their own businesses, taking on less stressful part-time work or maybe tinkering in the gig economy (think, Uber driver, Airbnb host).

But is it right for you? The answer, of course, depends a lot on you, your age, your financial situation, your ambitions and countless other factors.

Inside this article

  1. What is The Great Resignation?
  2. Who is quitting?
  3. Why are they quitting?
  4. Is it overblown?
  5. Is it time for you to quit?
  6. This can't last forever, can it?

What is The Great Resignation?

The term, which is also called “The Big Quit” or “The Great Reshuffle,” applies to a trend which started in April 2021 that saw resignation rates rise above historical norms in the U.S. Job dissatisfaction and wage and advancement stagnation are among the causes suggested by experts.[1]

In March, nearly 4.5 million people quit their jobs, almost matching the November peak of 4.5 million—the most on record.[1] Many people left retail, manufacturing and state and local government education jobs, but there has also been a significant movement of mid-career employees with stable careers. At the same time, companies are desperate for workers, increasing pay and benefits.

This is happening even as inflation nears 40-year highs, the Federal Reserve is hiking interest rates and households are becoming concerned that they might not be able to afford the lifestyle they are accustomed to.

Meet the quitters

About one-in-five non-retired U.S. adults left their jobs by choice and not because they were fired, laid off or because a temporary job had ended, according to a Pew Research Center survey.[2] Adults under 30 were far more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year, possibly because they have fewer responsibilities hindering them from taking the risk.

However, Harvard Business Review found that mid-career employees, generally from 30 to 45, had the greatest increase in resignation rates.[3] Possible reasons, as per HBR, include:

More demand for experienced workers who can better handle remote work meaning more opportunities and better pay.

Pent-up resignations: Mid-level employees may have delayed transitioning out of their roles due to the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Over it. Many people have simply reached a breaking point after months and months of high workloads, hiring freezes, and other pressures, causing them to rethink their work and life goals.

Meet the Expert

Fujica Paolino had a six-figure, 9-to-5 job in human capital management that she loved because she felt like she was making a real difference. For the first two years, at least. Then came leadership changes, and Paolino, of San Bernardino, Calif., found that she was constantly having to prove herself. Not to mention the stress that was taking a toll on her quality of life. She was missing time with her children because of work. Eventually, she had enough. Paolino became a successful entrepreneur and now helps people set up home care agencies.

Tech is special

IT workers are more likely to quit their jobs than employees in other functions, with only 29% saying they have a high intent to stay with their current employer, according to a Gartner survey.

“We’ve heard of IT organizations implementing back-to-the-office policies only to face mass resignations and have to reverse course,” says Graham Waller, vice president at Gartner. Chief information officers “may need to advocate for more flexibility in work design than the rest of the enterprise, as IT employees are more likely to leave, in greater demand and more adept at remote working than most other employees.”

Apple, in particular, has garnered much attention following the internal resistance to Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook’s insistence that employees return to the office. Employees took to ranting against the move on the anonymous social network Blind, where a survey found that 76% of Apple employee respondents were very unhappy with the idea of having to go in.

Why are they quitting?

They're tired and/or looking for meaning and a sense of purpose in their work, according to McKinsey.[4] Money, benefits and perks are no longer sufficient to lure and keep.

"They want to feel valued by their organizations and managers. They want meaningful—though not necessarily in-person—interactions, not just transactions," according to the consulting company.

Of course, it’s not just meaning that’s lacking. Money is a leading driver as well. According to a March survey by Pew Research Center, low pay was the reason most often cited by respondents that had quit a job during 2021. Lack of advancement opportunities and a feeling of being disrespected rounded out the top three.

The realities of child care in the U.S. are another leading factor. The costs often outweigh the benefits of a full-time salary and about half of those surveyed by Pew said child care issues were a reason they quit a job. Respondents also pointed to a lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours or not having good benefits such as health insurance and paid time off.

Is The Great Resignation overblown?

The numbers say not so much. The Great Resignation continues in full force and does not appear to be overblown. Official government figures report records of all kinds being hit that support The Great Resignation, including for a) people quitting their jobs; b) job openings not being filled; and c) layoffs and discharges.

Great Resignation Statistics:[1]

  • Number of quitters in March 2022: 4.5 million

  • Most quitters ever, first hit in Nov. 2022: 4.5 million

  • Job openings in March 2022: 11.5 million, the highest level in the history of the series which began in December 2000

  • Layoffs and discharges in March 2022: Stagnant at 1.4 million, or an unchanged rate of 0.9%, hovering near all-time lows

Meet the Expert

Four years after her first thoughts of quitting her job as a television news producer, Nikesha Elise Williams, from Jacksonville, Fla., had reached her limit. She was wracked with the guilt that many mothers experience dropping their children off at daycare everyday. There was no work-life balance. So she finally found the courage to resign. Now, she’s an award-winning full-time writer and writing coach.

Is it time for you to quit?

Up and quitting work isn't for everyone. It is a very, very personal choice. We still have bills to pay, mouths to feed and student loans breathing down our necks (as soon as the moratorium passes).

And the realities of life. Monique Valcour, an executive coach, suggests starting with asking yourself the following questions:[5]

  • Does your job/employer enable you to be the best version of yourself?

  • How well does your job/employer align with your values and interests?

  • What does your future look like in your job/organization?

  • What is burnout costing you?

Have a game plan, says Amanda Augustine, a career expert at coaching company Talent Inc.[6] "After you do some soul searching and make the decision to quit, you need to create a game plan so you're not stressing about money and paying your bills in the foreseeable future." That might include:

  • Looking for a part-time job that offers more flexibilitySaving up to start your own company

  • Landing a consulting gig so you can be your own boss and make your own hours

A big change isn’t right for everyone though. Greg Wilson, a chartered financial analyst who runs lifestyle blog, is best for people who actually have their retirement accounted for. "I am genuinely concerned. Many people are horrible about saving for their retirement. This is only going to make that worse," Wilson said in an email.

This can't last forever, can it?

Maybe, maybe not. Either way, Hasnain Malik, human resources director at media agency Brainchild Communications, warns that should organizations insist (when Covid allows) on having employees return to the office, we might see another wave.

"In light of companies making it mandatory for the workforce to return to the office at least three days a week, we anticipate a second wave in the Great Resignation, more appropriately reframed as the Great Reassessment," Malik said.

Those who are single or childless may now reassess their priorities and consider joining companies that prioritize the outcomes of their work, including flexibility, instead of companies that are rooted in the past work-life practices, Malik said.

If you're a traditional, hours-driven company, forget about it. STEM-qualified Gen Z candidates want flexibility and to be judged on outcomes, not hours worked, Malik said.

In a nutshell, if you can hack it, it might be a good time to take your chances, follow your dreams, quit and then restart on your own terms.

Article Sources
  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "JOB OPENINGS AND LABOR TURNOVER – MARCH 2022."
  2. Pew Research Center. "Majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 cite low pay, no opportunities for advancement, feeling disrespected."
  3. Harvard Business Review. "Who Is Driving the Great Resignation?"
  4. McKinsey. "‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours."
  5. Harvard Business Review. "When Burnout Is a Sign You Should Leave Your Job."
  6. TopResume. "It's OK to Quit (Your Job)."

About the Author


Christiana Sciaudone

Experienced reporter, writer and editor. Expert on equity investing.

Full bio

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