Why Women Are Quitting Their Jobs In Record Numbers

When the coronavirus pandemic first forced businesses and public spaces to close, most of us expected life to return to pre-pandemic normal once the disease was brought under control. Most of us, that is, except Texas A&M University business administration professor Anthony Klotz, who predicted things would look different after everything calmed down. 

Klotz based his assumption on two factors: That people who might have wanted to quit in 2020 would have held back until the situation became less fluid and uncertain; and that a combination of COVID-driven exhaustion, burnout, and the possible realization that "there is more to life than work" could potentially trigger a bigger-than-expected wave of resignations. He even had a name for the phenomenon: The "Great Resignation," and data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has proven Klotz to be correct (via Time Magazine). 

For the month of April, 2021 alone, the Bureau saw 2.7 percent of America's workforce — or about 4 million people who worked across different sectors from retail trade, followed by professional and business services quit their jobs. These workers were located in the South, the Midwest, and the western parts of the country, and all together, they drove the country to its highest national resignation rate since the bureau began keeping statistics in 2000 (via HR Dive).

People are quitting jobs in record numbers

Economists say there doesn't appear to be one overriding reason that's fueling "The Great Resignation," and that the phenomenon is, in fact, being influenced by many factors which are at play. These include the fact that wages for a number of these jobs are low — too low to keep up with inflation — and that these jobs don't offer much by way of career advancement (via Time Magazine). The Harvard Business Review, which reported high turnover in the tech and health care spaces, says those resignations were related to higher burnout rates triggered by the pandemic. Time says it is important to note that mass resignations were not being triggered by vaccine mandates, nor were they encouraged by the offer of unemployment insurance.

There is one disturbing trend that job market experts are also picking up on, which could prove to be more disruptive to the U.S. economy as a whole, and that is the fact that more women are leaving the workforce than men are. Data gathered by Deloitte Global shows that women are choosing to stop working because of a jump in the number of tasks they need to accomplish, not just on the professional front, but on the home front too. These challenges aren't unique to women in the United States, but have been documented in a Deloitte survey which was carried out in 10 countries (via Forbes).

No economic recovery without women in the workforce

Another study from the Brookings Institution outlines some of the reasons why women are choosing to drop out of the workforce in larger numbers than men. Thanks to the spread of the delta variant, women have thus far been unable to track down childcare options which are both acceptable and affordable. Most women also hold positions that require in-person, and face-to-face interaction, which means they run a higher risk of getting infected (via The Washington Post). 

The impact of stress and burnout isn't just hitting women who work in the services industry, they're hurting professional women and business owners too. Therapist Asha Tarry tells CBS that women are working longer days, failing to make the distinction between work life and home life if they are working remotely, or even taking on more responsibilities for the same amount of pay, simply because "[women] are conditioned to people-please to our own detriment."

If this situation does not go into reverse, it could mean that the economy is unlikely to make a full recovery. Simply put: "We're not going to see a full, equitable recovery until women return to the labor force in equal rates to men," Luke Pardo, an economist at payroll services company Gusto says. 

An opportunity for change

The news is not all grim, particularly for those who are in the position to re-enter the workforce. Texas A&M's Klotz says The Great Resignation could well become an opportunity for companies to overhaul the job market in The Great Labor Reset, by offering higher wages and better benefits. "There's an opportunity here for organizations to get together with workers who have to be in person and say, 'Within the constraints of our business, let's obviously raise wages and benefits, but let's also think about flexibility more innovatively.'" Klotz says via Time Magazine

Daniel Zhao, an economist with job site Glassdoor says they are already seeing improved benefits as a way of enticing workers back to work. "Anecdotally, we've seen more employers offer a wide variety of bonuses and perks. They are offering novel benefits like student loan assistance or tuition reimbursement, which are 21st-century benefits that employers are experimenting with," Zhao says (via CBS).

Two perks that women will need to see, over and above wage hikes, is flexibility — particularly in the case of single parent households — and better, more affordable childcare options. Without either, it may be challenging to see women in particular, and the economy in general, being part of a sustainable economic comeback narrative.