The number of job openings in the U.S. climbed to a record 10.9 million on the last business day of July, and 4.0 million people quit their jobs, according to the Labor Department. Those numbers reflect both a mass exodus of workers and a vast market of potentially greener pastures.
Fueled by flexible work policies during the pandemic, many people are reevaluating their jobs, their companies, how they work most efficiently and productively, and what type of lifestyles they want to lead, especially as businesses begin recalling workers to the office this fall.
This monumental trend of workers quitting their jobs (for a variety of reasons) has been coined “The Great Resignation.”
In one report, 95 percent of workers said they were weighing whether or not to switch jobs, and 92 percent said they were open to switching industries to secure the right position. The first reason cited was burnout and the second was lack of growth opportunities. Employees are gaining confidence and making bold moves (and bold asks) as they clarify what they want out of work and the settings in which they’re most comfortable and which their risk tolerance allows for.
In many cases, office workers who have had their taste of remote work are not eager or even willing to return to their commutes, set-in-stone office schedules, or the possible risk of exposure to COVID-19 or its variants. “If the pandemic has shown us anything, it’s that the old way of working left little room for living,” wrote Tracy Moore for The Washington Post. “Between our fragile mental health and a work world desperate to have us slot back in, something has to give.”
Discerning whether to change jobs
The societal shifts that are taking place in the world of work make this an excellent time to determine your ideal professional situation, whether fully remote, in-person, or hybrid, a startup or a steady corporate job. So how do you discern which way of work best matches your personality, inclinations, and goals?
First, there’s no need to make long-term decisions and big claims for thirty more years of your professional tenure. Instead, think about the season you’re in right now, and look ahead to the next year or two. What big events do you anticipate coming up in your life? What do you value most? Reflecting on the important factors at play will help funnel you into the right job for you, at least for your next season in life.
Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine how much weight you want to attach to various factors. Maybe you’re willing to work in person for a large boost in salary. Or the culture of your current company is so incredible that you don’t mind not having an office to go to. Or you don’t want to relocate, you hate your commute, you’re in love with your city, you dream about becoming an entrepreneur, etc. There are limitless reasons why you could choose to stay exactly where you are, or why the scale could tip toward finding a new opportunity.
Aside from the major considerations of compensation and benefits, below are some other key factors to consider and prioritize to help you answer the question, “Should I stay or should I go (and if so, where)?”
Team dynamics and workplace culture
Who you work with matters just as much as the work that you do. In fact, Gallup research found that employees with strong friendships at work are more engaged in their jobs, produce higher quality work, and have higher levels of well-being.
A positive, healthy work culture can flourish or wither in any type of company, whether remote or in-person, a legacy organization or a startup. While management can boast about social perks like lavish happy hours, virtual trivia nights, mentorship programs, and team retreats to encourage bonding, culture is often nurtured in the more mundane moments. Seemingly small interactions and habits that characterize the workplace can have a huge impact on a team member’s self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Are managers accessible for questions or too overloaded to clarify the “why” behind a project? Do team members lean on each other or is there an unhealthy competitive streak that inhibits true collaboration? Is transparency modeled top-down, with executives sharing company-wide goals the whole team can rally behind? Are team members’ desires for advancement validated and taken seriously? Is there a feedback loop about workplace policies and initiatives?
Maybe you’re on the search for a more welcoming, inclusive work culture. Perhaps you haven’t given much thought to the topic, and stress brought on by the pandemic has recently shed light on the support you’re lacking or the dysfunctions of your team. Regardless, pursuing a job that espouses a healthy work culture can prove worth the effort.
The intersection of interests and skills
While passion at work is sometimes overemphasized and impractical, the right combination of interests and talent can make the difference between dreading the start of your workday or being motivated out of the gate. Often, an ambivalent attitude about work or a lack of focus can characterize “languishing” (a sense of stagnation or emptiness).
For some, the pandemic crystallized their draw toward more meaningful work, such as marketing for a brand one believes in, designing for nonprofits instead of major companies, and teaching in a public school with limited resources.
Talent can always be cultivated, but to what end? Millennials and Gen Z, in particular, tend to be more mission-driven in their choices about work, placing a greater emphasis on purpose over a paycheck. That desire may have been magnified in witnessing the detrimental effects of a global pandemic.
Further, when we underwent lockdowns, work occupied a growing percentage of our weeks. Some people worked on the weekends just to pass the time. Others felt the weight of their workdays because their routines were disrupted or they didn’t have other social events occupying their evenings and days off. Many people have been rethinking their jobs and pondering whether they are truly satisfied in their roles. Some have even grown their hobbies into side hustles, which are replacing their full-time jobs. (I know of one marketing professional who quit her corporate job to focus on her picnic party business.)
Do you feel your current position blends your skills with your interests? Do you simply need a change of scenery to jolt you from being jaded about your goals at work? Do you feel that you have the resources to continually foster your skills, or have you reached stagnancy? While it may be tough to find a job with the perfect blend of your interests and skills, note your overall attitude to work and see if better alignment is necessary.
The value of flexibility
Flexibility is often discussed as a craving of working parents everywhere. The ability to attend mid-day school events, chaperone field trips, or just make it to an evening recital is worth its weight in kid smiles. But flexibility benefits everyone—and it can be nurtured in workplaces of all shapes and sizes.
Eighty percent of my team doesn’t have kids, but everyone raved about the one remote workday we implemented before the pandemic. It allowed people to cook lunch, work out, go to a doctor’s appointment, or put in a load of laundry at various points in the workday.
Flexibility to move cities is lauded by millennials in particular. Just over 45 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in 2017 have lived in their current home for less than two years, according to a study by Zillow. If you want to keep the door open to switching your location for any number of reasons, a fully remote job possesses the most bandwidth for flexibility.
Does your job satisfy your needs and hopes for flexibility? If not, do you think your situation could improve if you asked your employer for accommodations? Or do you crave a new opportunity that offers more flexibilty across the board? If you need to be in the office eight hours a day and have to jump barriers to leave work a few hours early or to come in later, you may not have the most flexibility in your current position. But perhaps you have paid time off you can use liberally in small chunks for things like appointments or special events. Some people may also be highly structured and appreciate the discipline of being in the office for a set period of time every day, and are less likely to want to veer from that.
Your most productive work setting
When considering the types of industries, positions, or companies that are the best fit, you should first spend time thinking through the work setting in which you thrive. The more experiences you have working remotely, in-person, or in a hybrid model, the more experiences you have to compare. Consider:
What energizes you to work at your best level? It could be the buzz of an office and collaborative whiteboard sessions or the silence of your living room and the freedom to solve complex problems on your own.
What distracts you the most? The lure of household chores and personal calls? Or the coworker who disrupts your deep work every afternoon? What friction do you encounter in meeting your objectives at work or your professional growth goals, and which setting minimizes them the most?
Where do you feel most fulfilled? Efficiency isn’t everything—it must be balanced with your overall fulfillment, satisfaction, and happiness (incidentally, the happiest workers are the most productive workers). Doing meaningful work is important, but where you work can also be meaningful. Maybe your commute to the office is your favorite part of the day, or you delight in having lunch with your partner.
Determine the setting that boosts your productivity and aligns the most with the lifestyle you want to lead and which you find most fulfilling. If your answers are a blend of the benefits of working in person and remotely, maybe a hybrid role or a remote job with several onsite events a year is the ideal option.
There’s no easy answer, but one thing is for sure: the pandemic’s effects will continue to ripple through our relationships, our social activities, and our work lives. And for many of us, it’s provided just the environment for introspection and adjustments that are better optimized for our well-being.