Paul Davidson USA TODAY
Quitting smoking isn’t all it’s supposed to be.
Most of the millions of Americans who quit their jobs during the Great Resignation regret the decision, don’t like their new job enough to stay, or are looking for a new job, according to a Harris Poll for USA TODAY March 18-20.
Many workers have acted hastily amid a pandemic that has fostered severe worker shortages, a seismic shift to remote work and widespread burnout, employment experts say.
“People will act very quickly,” says Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse, an online job board and consulting firm specializing in helping candidates find the best cultural fit. Then they wonder, “Did I just make a mistake?
About 1 in 5 workers who quit in the past two years regret it, and a similar share are remorseful about starting their new job, according to Harris Poll’s national survey of about 2,000 adults.
Sara Norton-Sanner, from Albuquerque, New Mexico, loved her communications work at a local animal shelter. But in November, when a friend told her of an opening for a similar position at a nonprofit education group, she eagerly applied. It offered a much higher salary in a national organization with the possibility of advancing to the position of director.
The pandemic, including soaring inflation that weighed on its budget, provided a boost. Norton-Sanner hadn’t gotten a raise in his three years at the animal shelter.
“It got me thinking – Is this what I want to do long term?” she says. “The pandemic kind of pushed me over the edge to take a risk.”
She accepted an offer after two Zoom interviews, just three weeks after applying. But, she says, the work has not lived up to her hopes. Instead of writing an annual report and other publications, as she had been promised, she published social media posts.
Norton-Sanner says she also endured a barrage of criticism with no guidance on how to meet her manager’s expectations. And despite being told it was a 9 to 5 job, she had to take calls or work late nights, weekends and Christmas Eve.
“I wish I had taken more time to research” the position and the company. said Norton-Sanner. Amid the labor shortage, the nonprofit had been looking to fill the vacancy for months, and the hiring process “was a bit fast.”
It didn’t help that she was working remotely due to COVID-19.
“I felt so disconnected, so isolated,” she says. “I couldn’t go down the hall to ask a question.”
Norton-Sanner fought for her decision to leave the animal shelter. “I was crying and wondering: why did I leave a place I loved so much? I let money get in my way.
There was a happy ending. In February, she quit teaching and took a job with an animal welfare group for the same salary.
looking for new opportunities
Even the majority of dropouts who don’t question their decisions seem dissatisfied. Only 26% of people who change jobs say they like their new job enough to stay there, and a third are already looking for a new job with better working conditions, prestige or pay, according to the results of the investigation.
Among those who regret:
• 30% say their new role is different from what they expected.
• 36% deplore a loss of balance between work and private life.
• 24% regret the culture of their previous job.
• 24% say they have not properly assessed the advantages and disadvantages of leaving.
And fewer than 4 in 10 dropouts feel happy, successful, or valued in their new roles.
Initially, their decision to jump ship was very promising.
Every month since June, more than 4 million workers — or 3% of total U.S. employment — have quit their jobs, typically for new, better-paying jobs, according to Labor Department figures. Each monthly tally has broken a new record or hovered just below all-time highs.
Experts attributed the unprecedented wave of resignations to factors related to COVID-19, including the desire to work remotely permanently; burnout when employees replaced absent colleagues; career change, especially for lower-paid restaurant and retail workers; and decisions to start businesses.
Many who harbor regrets don’t stay in their new jobs for at least a year that was once considered the norm, Minshew says. Forty-one percent of applicants say they would only give it two to six months if they felt a new job was not as advertised, according to a January survey by The Muse of around 2,500 millennial and Gen Z job seekers. About 20% would leave within a month and 15% would stay for seven to 11 months.
The figures suggest that at least some of the 33.8 million resignations recorded since June could be attributed to a smaller group of workers who can jump between jobs, Minshew says.
Some return to their former employers. Of new company hires on LinkedIn, 4.5% were so-called boomerang workers last year, up from 3.9% in 2019, according to the job networking site.
Here’s why so many workers have doubts.
Too focused on salaries
With the pandemic causing widespread labor shortages, “many companies have attracted paid people,” says Jim McCoy, senior vice president of talent management solutions at ManpowerGroup.
McCoy said health care and other benefits, as well as the new company’s culture and values and “whether they treat people with respect,” are factors to consider.
Michael Brady, president of an Express Employment Professionals franchise in Jacksonville, Fla., estimates that 10% to 15% of maintenance technicians, truck drivers, and manufacturing and warehouse workers who change jobs for a dollar or two more in hourly wages over the past six months have returned to their previous jobs.
It’s not just about remote work
Likewise, many employees switched because their previous employers required employees to return to the office and they wanted to continue working remotely, McCoy says. So they turned to a new employer that allowed remote work but didn’t fully weigh other factors, such as benefits.
Zoom interviews don’t reveal the culture
Online video interviews during the pandemic have left candidates with little opportunity to get a feel for company culture, McCoy and Minshew say.
“You don’t have the luxury of meeting people,” McCoy says.
They also miss the chance to have face-to-face interviews to observe potential colleagues and their surroundings, Minshew says.
Desperate companies promote jobs
Employers struggling to hire workers during labor shortages may overstate or misrepresent working conditions, Minshew and McCoy say.
“They may feel pressure to tone things down,” Minshew says.
For example, she says, a hiring manager might tout a favorable work-life balance but “expect employees to respond to emails by 10 p.m.” or promote the creative aspects of a job even though the most of his duties are administrative.
Others promise a permanent remote work setup, but then call employees back to the office, she says.
Nearly 40% of companies said they hired someone who didn’t meet their usual qualifications to fill a vacancy, according to a Harris Poll poll late last year for Express Employment Professionals. This can lead to mismatches between workers and jobs.
No questions asked
In rushed Zoom interviews, some companies offer little chance for candidates to ask questions, Minshew says. It’s no wonder they’re surprised, she says, when a new job or company doesn’t live up to expectations.
The rage has ceased
Many employees quit in rage during the pandemic because they were overworked, undervalued or underpaid, or their employer cared little about their mental health, according to a Skynova survey of about 700 workers and 300 managers. Skynova provides online invoicing services for small businesses.
Of those who left in anger, 41% tried to get their old jobs back, according to the survey results.
“I was crying and wondering: why did I leave a place I loved so much? I let money get in my way.
Sara Norton Sanner
Whose new job was far below her expectations