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The Hidden Resignation: Burnout Plaguing U.S. Workforce

In addition to the Great Resignation spawned by the pandemic, there’s the Hidden Resignation: the millions of workers left behind who are burned out and disillusioned with their jobs.

Job Resignations and Burnout

Millions of Americans quit their jobs in the last year, but rather than filling the millions of openings that have been created as the economy recovers from COVID-19, many are remaining on the sidelines.

Surveys have shown Americans work longer hours than their European and Japanese counterparts, with the U.S. ranking as the 10th hardest working country in the world behind the likes of Mexico, Poland and Israel, according to World Population Review.

Last November, U.S. employers hired 6.7 million people, but a record 4.5 million quit, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported. Some 6.3 million were unemployed in December, BLS said. Since the pandemic began in February 2020, the number of people not in the labor force has increased by 717,000, BLS said.

Indeed Hiring Lab research director Nick Bunker told The Associated Press (Jan. 4) a large percentage of those quits were in the low-wage hotel and restaurant industries.

But low-paying jobs aren’t the only casualty. Experts told The Food Institute more highly paid workers also are quitting or passing up promotions because they are just burned out and looking for more work-life balance. Many people found when they were forced to work from home because of pandemic shutdowns, it became more difficult to end the workday.

A Gallup poll released last month indicated women are even more burned out than men, and estimates of the number of women who dropped out of the workforce range from 300,000 to 1.8 million.

Business Insider cited (Jan. 17) the case of a mid-level executive at a Fortune 1000 company who turned down a promotion despite a sizeable bump to a $300,000 salary because it would have required more travel and taken time away from family.

“Most of us were brought up to work hard and devote ourselves to our careers at the expense of everything else,” said Christina Russo, creative director for the Kitchen Community. “[But] people are walking away from jobs that make them miserable or refusing promotions that might pay more but demand longer hours because they just want to be happy in every aspect of their life.”

Labor Market Perspectives

Attorney and human resources consultant Bryan Driscoll said the whole attitude toward work has changed.

“Workers are quitting in what many older generations might see as dumb or harmful moves to their careers. But the world those older generations lived in … doesn’t exist and doesn’t work for people today,” Driscoll said in an email.

He said companies have played a major role in burnout, pushing employees to do more and more with less and less.

“Somehow the pandemic has loosened the chains of people who have been slaves to their workplace – often for the security or hope that it provides,” said Ian Sells, CEO and founder of RebateKey. He said the pandemic showed workers how little control they actually have over their lives and highlighted “the brevity of life and how easily a person can lose the things they thought were permanent.”

Beth Schubert, content and press director of Own the Grill, said the pandemic has shown workers just how burned out they are.

“We work hard, but the hours we put in mean that we’ve got little time to do anything else, and it’s hard to be ambitious and try to figure out a way to climb the next rung on the career ladder when you’re just too fried to switch a computer on when you get home,” Schubert said. “We’re still ambitious, but we just need the carousel of modern life to slow down for a little while so we can figure out how to channel our collective ambition into doing the things that we want, and need, to do with our lives.”

So, how can employers coax people back?

Lena Suarez-Angelino, a licensed clinical social workers and empowerment coach, said employers need to have open and honest conversations with their employees.

“Ask them what they want in order to prevent burnout while increasing morale and maintaining employee retention. Chances are bonuses aren’t the only ‘carrot’ to why people stay at a job,” she advised.