Trauma and “the great resignation”

Millions of Americans are rethinking their work and lives in this post-quarantine world, and the outcome has been a great wave of resignations, career changes, and people deciding to not return to work.

According to Forbes, one way to measure the resignation trend is to look at the “tightness” of the labor market, defined as the ratio of job openings to the number of unemployed people.  The higher the ratio, the tighter the market; the lower the ratio, the looser the market.

Typically, a recession causes a “loose” labor market — fewer job openings and higher rates of unemployment.  Now that the majority of the country is recovering from the pandemic and related stressors, as expected, the labor market has tightened, with more job openings and fewer unemployment claims.

The one thing economists were not expecting? The degree to which the labor market has tightened.  Despite significant increases in job openings over the last months, the ratio of job openings to unemployment claims has dropped to pre-2017 levels.

This indicates that previously employed people may not be actively looking for work and that there are significant increases in individuals voluntarily leaving the workforce.

Said even more plainly by NPR: “In normal times, people quitting jobs in large numbers signals a healthy economy with plentiful jobs. But these are not normal times. The pandemic led to the worst U.S. recession in history, and millions of people are still out of jobs. Yet employers are now complaining about acute labor shortages.”

The big question is why?

Given the economic and health uncertainties that many families faced during the pandemic, this trend was somewhat unexpected.  Financial security (and, for some jobs, subsidized insurance) were thought to be some of the most important things on families’ minds.


Trauma and Reprioritization

“The great resignation” is real, but economists and behavioral psychologists have been puzzling over its root cause.

One general consensus is that there’s been a mindset shift and a change in expectations over time — the idea that people want more from their employers, careers, and lives.

While I agree with this notion, I take it a bit further.

This is the natural reaction to trauma.

Whether or not you were directly impacted by the last year and a half — whether or not you or a family member got sick with COVID — whether or not you were directly impacted by the wave after wave of tumultuous, tragic news coming across our screens every day about the pandemic, riots, government chaos, and more — you experienced trauma.

We all did.

And the one thing we know about trauma is that it causes us to take a much deeper look at our priorities.  

People are finding themselves no longer able to just “grin and bear it,” working 80 hour weeks, neglecting their mental and physical health.  There’s no longer much tolerance for sacrificing family time for the sake of climbing a corporate ladder.  

Trauma leads to clearer vision, deeper introspection, and, often, big life changes that bring us more in line with our core values.

And many times, those changes impact our work.


Thinking About a Change?

 Are you among the people who have done deep introspection and who are thinking about making a change at work or in life?  If so, you’re not alone.  A record 4 million people quit their jobs in April 2021.  Applications to medical and law school have jumped by 18% and 20%, respectively.

What if you’re feeling some unease but are unsure what, exactly, what to do?

The dozens of articles written about “the great resignation” focus mainly on what employers should do to retain and attract talent — increase wages, go to a hybrid work from home model, etc. — but not at all on how to help those of us thinking of quitting.

My advice?

Start by getting support.  Enlist a trusted mentor, coach, therapist or friend to walk through what you’ve been feeling.

Next, spend some time with yourself.  Do some journaling, out loud thinking, whiteboarding or any other introspective activity that helps you make sense of how you feel.

Some considerations to take into account:

  • Are there ways to think of other income sources?  You can love what you do without being tied to your current path.
  • Consider the law of “sunk costs.”  Just because you’ve invested time in your current career/workplace, it doesn’t mean you should be tied to them forever.
  • At the same time, don’t let a trend dictate how you feel.  The most important part of your decision is that it should align with your core values and with what fulfills you most.
  • Consider your other non-work goals.  How important is spending time with family? Your hobbies?  Other goals do you have?  How can you incorporate those into your life?
  • It’s critical that you’re following a path that aligns with YOUR definition of success — not someone else’s.
  • It’s also important that your path aligns with who you are — your core values and what fulfills you most.  If you don’t know what these are, take some time to list these out.


Need more 1:1 guidance? Click here to schedule some time with me — I’d love to chat and help you love what you do.

Haven Coaching