The great resignation Changing economic conditions, evolving workplace flexibility policies, and an undervaluing of coworker relationships are leaving many of those who left jobs during the so-called Great Resignation with resigner’s remorse.
Recent studies suggest that many of those who took part in the Great Resignation that began in 2021 (and remains ongoing) are unsatisfied in their new roles, and some are even trying to get their old jobs back. According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics data, more than four million Americans, or about 2.7% of the workforce, called it quits in December of 2022, on par with the elevated resignation rates seen since mid-2021.
A survey of 825 employees conducted by HR and payroll solutions provider Paychex in October and released in January found that 80% of those who quit regret their decision, including 89% of Gen Z respondents. Among those with regrets, 78% admit to wanting their old job back, with 68% actively attempting to return to their previous employer.
“We were at 47 million job changers in that ‘Great Resignation window,’ as we define it, so there were bound to be some unmet expectations,” says Paychex’s vice president of enterprise and HR solutions, Jeff Williams. “As people saw their friends changing [jobs] and the media picked up the story, there was this rush to change that felt more like running from something that running to something,”
The survey also found that professionals who changed industries were 25% more likely to regret their decision, and white-collar workers were 15% more likely to have regrets.
THE PRIMARY FACTORS THAT TURNED ‘RESIGNERS’ INTO ‘REGRETTERS‘
The thing job hoppers missed most about their former place of employment—especially female respondents—was their coworkers, followed by salary, bonuses, and health insurance. Recognition and flexibility-related perks, however, ranked near the bottom of the list, suggesting that workers may have switched jobs in pursuit of greater flexibility, but didn’t put enough emphasis on other factors.
Williams also speculates that inflation could be to blame, as the higher compensation levels promised by new employers likely didn’t result in as much of a lifestyle upgrade as many had hoped.
Other data suggests that the proportion of “Great Regretters,” may be significantly smaller, but their reasons for having regrets remains consistent. Joblist’s 2023 Job Market Trends Report found that only 22% of its 3,253 respondents—all of whom are U.S.-based job seekers who quit their jobs in 2022—have regrets.
Their concerns, however, were also largely economic-based, as nearly half of those who regret the decision say it was harder to find a new job than they had anticipated, and another 13% regret quitting specifically because the economy worsened. The least popular responses were also related to flexibility, with only 7% saying that their new job resulted in a decline of work-life balance.
“Changing economic conditions are a major driver of quitters’ remorse right now,” says Joblist CEO Kevin Harrington, who adds that “personal and social reasons are also common.”
For example, 20% of respondents say their new job wasn’t what they had hoped it would be, 14% miss their old colleagues, and 13% feel they may have taken their former employer for granted. Each factor, says Harrington, should be carefully considered by the 67% of respondents who are currently employed and seeking a new role—especially the 34% who say they would be comfortable leaving their current jobs without a new one lined up.
“Given rising recession fears, it may be surprising to learn that so many workers would be comfortable quitting their job without a planned next step,” says Harrington. “We should expect a meaningful number of these people to find the job market to be more difficult than expected, and ultimately regret their decision to quit.”
DO YOUR HOMEWORK BEFORE QUITTING
Resignations continue at an elevated rate in large part because of a belief that switching jobs can lead to higher compensation, and the threat of changing economic circumstances is only adding more urgency. According to the Joblist study, more than half of respondents believe they have the upper hand in today’s employment market, with 78% believing they can command a higher salary by switching jobs.
The prospect of a recession, however, should lead to more thoughtful consideration, rather than more hurried decision making, according to Harrington.
“It’s been a job seeker’s market for some time, but now the outlook is more uncertain,” he says. “It might be more difficult to switch roles later if the market takes a turn, so make sure you are confident in your decision.”
With employers struggling to hire and retain talent, Harrington warns that some will overemphasize the positive aspects of their employment proposition and hide those that make it seem less desirable. As a result, he says the onus is on employees to do some due diligence before making any decisions.
“Research and vet potential employers thoroughly [by] talking to current and former employees, reading online reviews, and asking about company culture throughout the interview process,” he says. “If job seekers do not ask probing questions and evaluate the available information critically during the interview process, they may come in with unrealistic expectations.”
DON’T ASSUME FLEXIBILITY PERKS ARE PERMANENT
According to Dr. Antoinette Boyd, director of career success and professional development at Maryville University, the Great Resignation was largely initiated by a mismatch in employee and employer expectations around flexibility, with many remote workers choosing to explore new opportunities rather than return to the office.
“If you had asked people in that moment, I think flexibility would be higher on the list,” she says. “Now there are fewer companies that are fully remote.” Boyd advises job hoppers who are seeking greater flexibility to be extra cautious, as even roles advertised as fully remote now often require staff to travel to an office, client, or offsite event on a regular basis.
Furthermore, she says that flexibility policies are still evolving, and likely to change in the coming months. As a result, she advises against switching jobs primarily in pursuit of a more flexible workplace structure.
DON’T TAKE YOUR JOB—OR YOUR WORK FRIENDS—FOR GRANTED
While money and flexibility are the primary motivators for changing jobs, research has found that workplace relationships are a primary driver of employee satisfaction.
“A higher salary at a business where you don’t feel a sense of community, that can only drive satisfaction for so long,” says Boyd. “It doesn’t shock me that coworkers are number one [in the Paychex study], because we know that wherever you work the people make the place.”
Boyd adds that when people began looking for new places of employment at the start of the Great Resignation, many hadn’t seen their colleagues in months or even years, causing some to underestimate the value of those relationships.
“When people move for money, or for a remote work structure, or because a company is on the Fortune 500 list or seems more prestigious, those are really shallow reasons that are more likely to change over time,” she says. “It’s the psychological factors that lead to greater career satisfaction, so when you think about making a shift to a new employer you really need to focus on those reasons.”