- Like millions of workers, Sharon wasn’t feeling appreciated in her old role.
- She sought a new job in a hot labor market, but she said her new role still felt exploitative.
- She’s found herself between two groups of workers best positioned to benefit from the movement.
Sharon thinks the Great Resignation is a lie. And she should know—she participated in it.
Sharon, who’s in her late 30s and asked that her and her employers’ real names be kept anonymous, works in the mental-health field. She’s been in the workforce for over 20 years.
When the pandemic hit, her workplace — like millions of others — scrambled to go remote. She took a leading role in her firm’s transition to all-virtual work. But she didn’t feel recognized for it. She got compliments, but not a higher-level role. She said that took a toll on her mental health and her personal life.
“I did start looking for new positions when it became clear that I wasn’t going to advance,” she told Insider. “I also felt, as a mom and as a Latina, I just basically was put in the back seat.”
That was last fall, when a near-record number of Americans were quitting, employers were complaining that they couldn’t find any workers, and wages were increasing. All those things are still true, but a looming economic downturn has also led some companies to institute hiring freezes or lay off staffers, as they have their own Great Regret about hiring too much.
Sharon said it was “really, really hard” to find roles that she actually wanted to do — ones that weren’t “what I had settled to do in the past.”
She experienced one of the cracks in the Great Resignation narrative: Some workers were able to quit and find higher-paying jobs that better suited their wants and needs, but not all. That’s because the power that workers have right now is their ability to leave; they depend on employers for everything else. Employers can still be choosy — perhaps just not as much as they used to be.
It can be harder than expected to find a better job
When Sharon started looking for work, new jobs seemed ripe for taking.
“Everyone was saying it’s the Great Resignation, it’s the worker’s advantage, you could get a job anywhere,” she said. “So I went in with the mentality thinking that if I’m going to quit, now’s the time to go.”
But while she felt her résumé was the right fit for the places she was applying to, she wasn’t getting as many callbacks or interviews as she’d expected.
“I was expecting more possibilities than maybe in the past, and that just wasn’t happening,” she said.
That may be because Sharon falls in between the two groups of workers with the most options. One group is what the economist Kathryn Anne Edwards called “bleach-collar” workers: highly educated, high-income workers in high-end services, like software engineers. The other is the lowest-paid workers in sectors like retail and restaurants, who went from having no power at all to a smidge more as companies realized they’d have to raise pay and compete for their labor.
Sharon ended up taking the first job that offered her something in her field and checked her basic boxes.
“Quite honestly, I felt so desperate to leave that I just took it,” she said, adding that the culture sounded a little better and the pay comparable, if not a little lower.
Ultimately, she said, she was “confused” by the job-search process.
“There was a staff shortage at my previous workplace, so I can imagine that there’s staff shortages in other workplaces,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Hey, here, I’m qualified. I actually feel like I’m a good fit. I’ve done the work. I have the experience. Here I am. I have this higher-education degree ‘ — and nothing.”
‘It just became clear that the environment was not ideal’
Sharon said the pay at her new job ended up being less than she had expected because of what her employer counts as work on the clock.
“It’s not a great feeling, not feeling like I can contribute to my family, having to live barely paycheck to paycheck now with no cushion — that’s pretty terrifying right now,” she said.
The Great Resignation has certainly meant pay increases for some job switchers. A recent Pew Research Center analysis found that 60% of job switchers from April 2021 to March 2022 got a pay bump. But that means 40% of those switchers didn’t necessarily make more. That’s consistent with older findings from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, which calculated in 2016 that almost half of job switchers were earning less with their new work.
Sharon said she’d been feeling regret, worry, and skepticism about just how powerful the Great Resignation is.
In her new role, she’s finding herself left to her own devices. It’s on her to figure out answers to her questions, and she said she feels isolated working remotely from her bedroom. She said that she left her old role because she felt discriminated against and exploited and that her struggles in her new role felt like a betrayal.
“It still feels like I’m getting exploited because the pay is so low, and there’s nothing I can do, and there’s no support,” she said, adding that “it’s kind of like sink or swim” and that she needs to do a lot of work just to stay afloat. She said paid and sick leave are minimal.
“If anybody in my family gets sick, including myself, in the middle of COVID, I am terrified how I’m going to be able to afford that time off,” she said.
She said she felt trapped after the “roller coaster of emotions” involved in finding this position. It shows that the solution to job woes isn’t necessarily finding a new role.
“I might as well just struggle, figure it out here, as unhappy and stressful as it is. I don’t know that it’s going to get any better anywhere else,” she said. “I guess that’s just resigning me to the fact, like, it is what it is. This is just the work culture. This is just how it is and how it’s going to be. It’s not going to get any better.”
She said that companies’ fairly compensating workers and restructuring for true equity and justice in the workplace might make a change. But she added that her “conspiracy side” tells her that the Great Resignation is a “marketing ploy” and that workers will still have to struggle to find a position that matches their worth.
“It’s still not to the benefit of the worker. It never was,” she said. “I don’t know that it ever will be. Who knows, maybe if I become my own boss, then I can start making those changes. But until that, I feel like the Great Resignation is a lie.”