The first quarter of 2022 has shown that the job market and economy are becoming more resilient to waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hiring activity has remained strong, and the unemployment rate is at its lowest level since early 2020. Millions of Americans have quit their jobs over the last year, and with quits still at near-record levels, the Great Resignation appears to be far from over.
In order to get a better understanding of the current job market and the factors driving the Great Resignation, we surveyed more than 18,000 job seekers from across the country over the past three months. Why are so many people quitting their jobs? How do workers themselves view the Great Resignation and organized labor efforts such as unionization and strikes? And what can employers do to slow turnover and keep employees happy? Read on for a detailed breakdown of these key questions, and more, facing the U.S. job market in Q1 2022.
The Great Resignation rolls on. 23% of job seekers quit their previous job, and the vast majority of them (84%) did not have a new job lined up before quitting. In a relatively strong job market with ample opportunities, workers are not hesitating to move on when they’re unhappy.
Toxic workplaces, difficult bosses, and low pay. One in four people who quit their last job report being “angry” or “very angry” with their employer when they decided to quit. Although people cite a wide range of personal factors, the most common reasons for quitting right now are toxic workplace culture (30%), bad management (28%), and low pay or lack of benefits (19%).
American workers are deeply dissatisfied. 49% of employed job seekers believe that their current employer does not care about their wellbeing, 44% feel mistreated by their boss, 50% think that they are not paid fairly, and 73% do not see an opportunity for growth or skill development at work. Despite all this, breaking up is hard to do — 68% still report feeling a sense of loyalty to their current employer.
The rise of worker movements. 77% of job seekers say that they can personally relate to the frustrations driving the rise of worker movements right now, such as labor strikes, unionization, and the Great Resignation. Nevertheless, a much smaller percentage of job seekers actually support organized labor efforts such as unionization (24%) and strikes (10%).
Assessing policy ideas. Job seekers are split on whether any public measures can help alleviate their collective frustrations around pay, benefits, work conditions, and work-life balance. The most popular policy ideas among job seekers include raising the minimum wage (42%), shortening the work week (38%), extending universal health coverage (37%), and instituting a universal basic income (19%). On the other side, 29% do not support any of these proposed measures.
The Great Resignation
Nearly 48 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This mass-quitting phenomenon — known as the Great Resignation — shows no signs of slowing down in 2022. In February, 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs, down only slightly from the record high of 4.5 million in November 2021.
In our Joblist survey, 23% of all job seekers in Q1 report that they quit their previous jobs. Of these, a whopping 84% say that they did not have a new job lined up before quitting. With more than 11 million job openings, or nearly 2 job openings per unemployed worker, employees know that they can quit first and secure a new job later in this advantageous market.
While nearly half of those who quit did so on good terms, almost one in four report being “angry” or “very angry” with their former employer when they decided to quit. Educators and hospitality workers (30% and 34%, respectively) are the most likely to report being angry or very angry.
Workers cite a range of personal factors driving their decision to quit their last job, but certain ones are mentioned more frequently than others. Across all industries, the most common reasons for quitting are a toxic workplace culture (30%), bad management (28%), and low pay or lack of benefits (19%). Respondents also cite a desire for a career change (18%), extra workload due to others quitting (15%), and shifting to remote work (3%) for why they decided to quit their last jobs.
Reasons for quitting vary both by age group and industry. Workers in their twenties more frequently cite low pay and lack of benefits as a reason for quitting (28%), while workers in their thirties are more likely to report that bad management (40%) caused them to quit. Workers in education and hospitality are more likely to point to low pay or lack of benefits relative to other workers (28% compared to 17%), while retail and hospitality workers are more likely to say that bad management caused them to quit (37% compared to 24% of other workers).
Survey results also show that the pandemic continues to impact quitting decisions. About one in four job seekers who quit their last jobs report that they quit due to pandemic-related reasons, and this is especially true of middle-aged workers in their forties. Educators and healthcare workers (40% and 34%, respectively) are also more likely than average to report that the pandemic influenced them to quit, which is unsurprising given the immense strain that the pandemic has had on healthcare and school systems everywhere.
There is also some data to support the notion that quitting is becoming trendy in certain worker groups. Overall, 13% of workers say that they were influenced to quit because of friends, family, or coworkers also quitting. However, the percentage is much higher in education and hospitality – over one in three educators and hospitality workers report that they were influenced to quit by people around them quitting.
The massive scope of the Great Resignation reflects widespread employee dissatisfaction. In an effort to understand more about why employees are unhappy, we surveyed a large group of employed job seekers about a range of topics, including their boss, compensation, and career growth opportunities at their company.
According to our survey, a significant percentage of employed job seekers are experiencing major issues with their current employer. In fact, 49% believe that their current employer does not care about their wellbeing, 44% feel mistreated by their boss, 50% think that they are not paid fairly, and 73% do not see an opportunity for growth or skill development at work.
Despite all this, 68% of these employed workers still say they feel a sense of loyalty to their employer. The fact that a much higher percentage of workers feel loyal to their employer than feel fairly treated is striking. Jobs are sticky, and quitting is not necessarily easy – practically and emotionally – even in an advantageous market for job seekers.
In addition to mistreatment, pay is a significant reason why many employees are dissatisfied. Wages have grown significantly in the past year and are now over 5% greater than a year ago, but this is being more than offset by inflation. Although pay is generally increasing, only 50% of employees in our survey believe they are paid fairly for their work.
Increasing pay for employees is one of the most impactful retention strategies that employers can adopt. In our survey, employees who believe they are paid fairly are more than twice as likely to expect to still be working at the same company at the end of the year (42% compared to 20% of workers who do not think they are paid fairly). Feeling fairly compensated is also correlated with a greater sense of employee loyalty and feeling satisfied with treatment by bosses. Additionally, nearly two out of three workers who think they are paid fairly believe their employers care about their wellbeing, compared to 35% of workers who do not believe they are paid fairly.
Providing growth and career development opportunities is also important for keeping employees happy. According to our survey, this is an area where employers are woefully under-delivering – only 27% of employees see opportunities for growth at their current companies.
Career growth opportunities vary widely by industry, according to our survey. Hospitality workers are much more likely to see opportunities for growth and skill development than other workers (56% compared to just 25%). However, just 10% of hospitality workers who are looking for jobs right now expect to stay at their companies through the year. By contrast, education workers who are looking for new roles are the most likely to expect to still be working at their current company by the end of the year (44% compared to 31% of other workers). It’s simply more difficult for educators to switch jobs, since they typically commit for full school years.
The Rise of Worker Movements
Along with widespread quitting, worker strikes have surged in the last year. The pandemic and economic recovery have brought about a massive shift in the labor market — worker demand is very strong while labor force participation is still below pre-pandemic levels. Workers are reassessing their careers and priorities while demanding better pay, benefits, and working conditions.
In our survey, over three out of four job seekers (77%) say that they can personally relate to the frustrations driving worker movements such as labor strikes, unionization, and the Great Resignation. Education, healthcare, retail, and warehouse workers are the most likely to personally relate to worker movement sentiments — between 85% to 88% of these workers — while office workers are the least likely to relate. This reflects how many office workers, who are likely able to work remotely at least part of the time, have been less affected by pandemic-related disruption and difficulties than workers in other industries.
Job seekers believe there are a number of factors driving the Great Resignation, strikes, and unionization. Low pay and a toxic workplace culture are the most commonly cited (by 60% and 49% of job seekers, respectively), but many job seekers also agree that workers reassessing their priorities, lack of benefits, difficult bosses, and job burnout related to the pandemic are having an impact too. Additionally, job seekers from different professions differed in what they think is driving worker movements. Low pay is most frequently cited by education workers while a toxic workplace culture is a more common response from healthcare workers.
Among several possible solutions to alleviate or address America’s frustrations with work, raising the minimum wage (42%) is the most popular among job seekers. In addition, job seekers also show meaningful support for shortening the work week (38%) and extending universal health coverage (37%). On the other hand, organized labor efforts such as unionization (24%) and strikes (10%) are much less popular, as is instituting a universal basic income (19%).
Interestingly, workers from different industries tend to support different potential solutions:
Hospitality workers are the most likely to support universal basic income (37%) and unionization (32%).
Healthcare workers are the most likely to support a shorter work week (45%) and labor strikes (15%).
Restaurant workers are the most likely to support raising the minimum wage (61%) and universal health care (48%).
On the other side, 29% of job seekers do not support any of these proposed measures. Looking across industry segments, office and warehouse workers are the most likely to support none of the proposed solutions (both 37%).
Future Outlook on Employment
The job market and its recovery are showing increased resilience to waves of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hiring has been strong in the first few months of the year, and the unemployment rate dropped to a new pandemic low of 3.6% in March. However, the COVID-19 Omicron variant caused a record 3.6 million workers to miss work due to illness in January, and the number of employees working part-time due to illness spiked to 4.2 million in the same month.
Joblist’s Job Seeker Confidence Index — our measure of how job seekers feel about the job market each month — waned slightly over the quarter, continuing a downward trend that began in November. Nevertheless, job seeker confidence remains squarely higher than it was in mid-2020 when Joblist began tracking this metric.
Job seeker expectations improved from January to February and then declined slightly in March. In January, 31% of job seekers expected the job market to improve next month, down from 34% in December. This percentage jumped back up to 34% in February but then fell again slightly in March. At the same time, the share of job seekers who think that the job market will get worse dropped from January to February and then increased in March to 13%, just slightly higher than at the end of 2021. These drops in job seeker optimism in March could perhaps be tied to inflation concerns and the war in Ukraine.
The share of job seekers who think it is “easy” to get a new job in the current job market declined over the quarter, from 19% in January to less than 16% in March. However, the share of job seekers who think it is “hard” to find a new job was stable over the quarter (19% to 20%), as was the share of job seekers who think it will take two months or less to find a new job (78% to 79%).
As the Great Resignation continues, millions of workers are quitting their jobs, and many do not have new jobs lined up. At the same time, despite record numbers of job openings, one in five job seekers believe it is hard to get a new job in the current market. This could be due to a mismatch of skills or that many job seekers are holding out for better opportunities that offer higher pay, more schedule flexibility, and a greater chance of career advancement.
We surveyed 14,028 job seekers about their outlook on the job market and expectations for the future. We surveyed 1,158 job seekers who quit their previous job about their reasons for quitting and the circumstances surrounding their decision to quit. We surveyed another 2,455 employed workers about their satisfaction level with their boss, compensation, career growth opportunities, and employer overall. Finally, we surveyed 976 job seekers about their views on worker movements such as the Great Resignation, strikes, and unionization.
All 18,617 survey respondents were Joblist users in the United States. The surveys were conducted over the course of January, February, and March 2022.
This data has not been weighted, and it comes with some limitations. All of the information in this study relies on self-reporting. With self-reporting, respondents may overreport or underreport their answers and feelings to the questions provided.
The Joblist Job Seeker Confidence Index was created from several survey questions — how difficult job seekers perceive the market to be, how long they expect it will take to find a new job, and how optimistic they are about the future of the job market. Survey responses were rescaled and averaged to create a composite index. A Confidence Index of 80 or more would denote a very high degree of job seeker confidence, whereas a Confidence Index of 25 or less would denote an extremely low degree of confidence. Job seeker confidence has remained squarely in the middle of these extremes throughout the pandemic.
Fair Use Statement
It’s difficult to predict exactly what the future will hold, but we hope this data helps paint a more vivid representation of the job market in America today. Share these findings with your readers for any noncommercial use by including a link back to this page so they have full access to our methodology and results.
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