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American workers are quitting their jobs at record rates. Here's why

The pandemic inspired many American workers to leave their comfortable, stable jobs.
Illustration of woman resigning in front of office building
Some are calling this period of the pandemic “The Great Resignation” as more and more workers are leaving their jobs to either pursue new career paths or focus on more personal time.TODAY Illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TMRW

After spending 17 years at a prestigious public relations company, the pandemic inspired Jessica Berger to leave her job as a vice president to pursue further education in a field she was passionate about: mental health.

“It's so crazy to just see what's going on in the world right now,” Berger told TMRW. ”We're obviously in such a mental health crisis but to see sports stars like Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka, all these folks who are coming out of this crisis closet to speak about their mental health; it’s just really interesting and inspiring.”

Berger sent an email to her contacts in July announcing her departure. With the subject line “A NEW CHAPTER...,” Berger shocked some with her decision to leave her cushy job to go back to school to pursue a master’s in clinical mental health counseling.

“It was a very hard decision, but I think that what I dealt with when the pandemic hit (inspired me), seeing what my family, friends, colleagues, clients, everyone was going through in terms of their mental health issues,” she said. “Ultimately, I feel like there's always been this taboo in dealing with mental health issues and I just really wanted to go deeper and understand how to help all the people in my life.”

Berger is not alone in her decision to up and quit.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job leavers increased by 164,000 to 942,000 in June. Some are calling this period of the pandemic “The Great Resignation” as more and more workers are leaving their jobs to either pursue new career paths or focus on more personal time.

“I know I'm probably not going to make half the money that I made in PR, but I think the value of what I can bring to other people through this is more important to me right now,” Berger said. “Also, this is the second half of my life, so to speak. Age was a factor. I mean, I'm 44. When am I going to do this if not now?”

Ally Butler, 31, was the type of person who loved being busy before the pandemic.

“I discovered this phrase, and it's never left me because it totally makes sense with my personality: ‘Thrives in chaos’” Butler said. “I loved having like a lot of different projects going, which is what I have always done and then getting into pandemic, that definitely pivoted at first.”

Butler, who worked for eight years at the prestigious auction house Christie's as a tours and exhibition manager, was furloughed at one point during the pandemic. When she returned to work, the workload was busier than ever and overwhelming. She even admitted to feeling guilty because she envied others who had been laid off.

“I was already a self-prescribed workaholic and so it already had became really important to me to have some sort of work-life balance, and that completely went away when I came back,” she said. “So it was like, geez, I don't know how I feel about this now.”

According to a report by personal finance site MagnifyMoney, about one in three workers are thinking about quitting their job, while almost 60% are rethinking their career. Working women considering a job change are more likely than men to cite feeling burned out, with 42% of women contemplating quitting because of burnout versus 27% of men.

In June 2021, Butler left her job. She is now pursuing her own career path in a challenging industry others may be scared to jump into.

“I am extremely passionate about the music industry and festival production, things like that are a perfect intersection of my operational and marketing past with my passion,” she said. “I don't know what that looks like specifically right now, but I know it's not just a one-woman show. It’s really about taking the time to figure it out and to find it.”

But what about money?

“So, it's a really good question,” Butler responded. “I brainstormed before I left and really looked at all my finances and thought about it really more from a financial perspective. That's what was keeping me there, and realizing that it's not completely about the money. I just really needed to take some time off, be comfortable enough financially to take time off and explore a bunch of different avenues that I was interested in."

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of job leavers increased by 164,000 to 942,000 in June. TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Butler added that while she hasn’t relied on them yet, her family has been very supportive, but her pride is too strong “to actually step into their support.” Berger also said she's figuring out the financial aspect of changing her career, mentioning familial support may help during this transitional phase in her life.

“I mean, to be honest, I'm still figuring it out,” Berger said. “I'm fortunate enough for my family to be helping. I have money saved also but I haven't been in school since I'm 21 years old, so I don't know what it's going to look like to be a full-time student, which is what I'm doing. I need to figure out what the cadence of classes and the workload is.”

“It's really kind of make or break but I feel like these are the moments where super unique, innovative ideas and business models come out of you."

Ally Butler

Both women also said that they have few reasons to feel tied down at this point in their lives, so they feel it's now or never.

“It's really kind of make or break but I feel like these are the moments where super unique, innovative ideas and business models come out of you,” Butler said. “You just really never know.”

It’s also not just about the work. It’s also about life. Right before the pandemic, Butler’s parents started experiencing some health issues, and this inspired her to not only spend more time with them, but also reframe her thoughts on how her time is spent in general.

“Over the past year, I've gone back to see my parents quite a bit so that was kind of on my mind a little bit as well,” she said. “We only have so much time on this Earth. How do you want to spend it and who do you want to spend it with?”