The Great Resignation caused a mass exodus with nearly 50 million Americans quitting their jobs in 2021. Now, a quarter of those job hoppers are expressing “quitter’s remorse.” Job search portal Joblist issued its Q2 2022 US Job Market Report, and the topic of “regret” came up repeatedly. Out of 15,000 job seekers surveyed, 26% said they regretted leaving their previous jobs, leading to terms such as “The Great Regret,” “remorse resignation” and “boomerang employees” gaining traction. But why are so many of those who joined the mass exodus of the workplace during the pandemic having second thoughts?
The Joblist Study
As the country grapples with inflation, rising interest rates, continued supply chain and Covid-19 disruptions, consumers and businesses worry that a recession is around the corner. Although the job market has proven largely resilient up until this point, the future outlook appears increasingly uncertain. Joblist surveyed more than 15,000 job seekers from across the country over the past three months to find out how concerned American workers are about inflation and a potential recession. Here are their five key findings:
- Widespread recession concerns.80% of job seekers expect the U.S. to enter a recession in the next year, and 49% anticipate that the job market will get worse over the next six months. As a result, 60% of job seekers feel more urgency to find a job now before market conditions change.
- Inflation outpaces pay increases.41% of workers received a pay raise in the first half of 2022. However, 72% of these reported that their raise was less than 8.5%, thus failing to keep pace with the current inflation rate.
- Gas prices strain commuters. 86% of workers in the survey commute to work by car at least some of the time. Of those, 59% said that rising gas prices are putting a “high” or “very high” level of strain on them financially. As a result, nearly 70% of commuters are taking measures to counter rising gas prices, such as looking for a job with higher pay or a shorter commute, working from home or moving closer to work.
- Great Resignation brings great regrets. Over one in four people who quit their previous job (26%) regret their decision. Of those who found a new job after quitting, 42% say that their new job has not lived up to their expectations.
- “Unretirements” are on the rise. The pandemic forced more than two million premature retirements, but many of those retirees are now returning to work. Although 27% of retired job seekers are re-entering the workforce for financial reasons, and 21% cite inflation concerns, specifically. The majority are unretiring instead for personal reasons. In the survey, 60% said that they are primarily “looking for something to do,” and 53% report that they are happy about going back to work.
“One has to zoom into the reasons why so many people regret their decision,” Christina Gialleli, director of people operations at Epignosis told me. “Surveys show that in a demanding job market job seekers had, after all, difficulties finding a new job, and those who did, report that the new role was very different from what they expected, with an emphasis on the management culture of their new company.”
What can companies do to combat feelings of regret? Gialleli says they should focus on employee engagement with a human-centric work model that takes into account employees’ needs offering flexibility in when and where employees work, as well as learning and development opportunities. “The job should live up to employees’ professional aspirations and provide clear career paths,” she explains. “In addition, in remote and hybrid work environments companies should bring people together, organize in-person and virtual team-building events and activities and encourage meaningful interactions. Friendships and personal connections are one of the strongest engagement and retention factors.”
Great Resignation Regrets
Of the 50 million who quit their jobs in 2021, some are starting to look back on their resignation and reconsider whether it was the right move. The most popular reason (40%) respondents regret quitting is that they quit without a new job lined up and the job market has proved more difficult than expected, which is perhaps a surprising insight at a time when job openings in the U.S. are near record levels. Others report that the source of their regret is that they miss the people at their old company (22%), the new job is not what they hoped for (17%), the old job was better than they realized (16%) or bad culture and management at their new company (9%).
As quit levels remained at historic levels through the first half of 2022, it’s clear that the Great Resignation phenomenon is here to stay. Among those who quit and found a new job, 42% say that the new job has not lived up to their expectations. When this happens, the study finds that employees will not hesitate to move on quickly. In fact, 16% say they will stay less than three months when a job does not live up to expectations, 34% will stay less than six months and 48% will stay less than a year.
How Should Employers Treat Boomerang Employees?
Given that quitting regret is somewhat common, employers are wise to reach back out to former employees when trying to fill roles in a tight hiring market. In the survey, 23% of respondents reported that their previous employer reached out to them about coming back after they quit. When asked if they would consider going back to their old job as a “boomerang employee,” respondents were split. The majority (59%) said “no,” while 17% said “yes” and 24% were “maybe” open to it.
But when boomerang employees see that the grass isn’t always greener and return to their former workplace as a boomerang employee, they should be welcomed back with open arms, according to Mike Morini, CEO of WorkForce Software. “Boomerang employees can remind us of things, large and small, that we can come to take for granted or overlook until we no longer have them,” Morini told me. “They shed light on elements of culture that transcend pay and make our efforts at work more worthwhile and fulfilling. When they return, they bring the necessary training and experience to jump back into their job and often a new appreciation for the company that can invigorate their team and give insights into what is special about your organization. If you’re really lucky, they can bring back some new skill, knowledge or competitive insight that they acquired during their time away.”
Morini concluded, “Boomerang employees can be important to current employee retention. When boomerang employees return, they often share their experience of leaving and articulate why they chose to come back, providing insight into the benefits that the company provides that in a way can be a warning to other employees who might be considering leaving. Better than a corporate message, employees who left and choose to come back serve as the best deterrent to additional attrition.”