Credit: Marten Bjork on Unsplash

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes to almost all aspects of our daily lives.  The threat to our health, repeated lockdowns and curtailment of activities has acted as a natural break in our habitual ways of life – a sort of pattern interrupt of our habituated values, norms and perspectives on life. 

“The Great Resignation” is the term coined to reflect the large increase in numbers of people who have quit their jobs or who plan to quit over the coming months.  While findings vary widely between studies, there is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has given rise to a huge increase in workforce mobility which is likely to cost employers millions in recruitment and on-boarding of new staff.  In the US, a McKinsey report found that between  April 2021 and the publication of the report in September 2021, approximately 19 million US workers had left their job.(reference below)

The  survey of over 5,700 employees across several continents, in large and mid-sized organisations and multiple industries, 40% of respondents said that they were at least “somewhat likely” to quit within the next 3-6 months.  18% of people that were interviewed said that they were “almost certain” to leave within the same time frame.  64% of employers surveyed said that they expected the problem to continue or worsen over the next six months. (reference below).

But Why Are So Many of Us Quitting?

While work flexibility and higher wages were reported as the most common reasons for leaving jobs in some studies, reports of burnout and stress are also common. No surprises there.  But this multinational report also showed that the most common reasons for changing jobs given by white collar workers was that these individuals struggled with work that didn’t feel meaningful, interesting or challenging and which “lacked  opportunities to learn”.

“Care is the new currency”
~  Statya Nadalla, CEO, Microsoft

The McKinsey report collected data on the reasons employers believed workers were leaving and the reasons given by workers themselves.  The study showed that the top three reasons cited by workers choosing to leave their place of employment were:

1.  Not feeling valued by the organisation (54%),

2.  Not feeling valued by their manager (52%)

3. A lack of a sense of belonging at work (51%)

But, the top three reasons that employers thought their people were leaving were

1.For higher pay elsewhere

2.For reasons of work-life balance

3.Due to physical and mental health issues.

The McKinsey report authors highlighted an obvious gap in understanding:  while employers generally believed workers were leaving for reasons of a “transactional” nature, workers themselves cited reasons of a “relational” nature.

“In the current market it’s highly likely that you can secure a new role paying you more money, however this is just one element in your decision making. We are finding that a lot of people have raised the priority of their family and personal circumstances over just financial gain.”

~ Dominic Bareham, Managing Director, Morgan McKinley, Australia

So sure, when we are struggling to pay the rent or utility bills, then our need for a higher income will grab all of our attention.    But once these needs have been met, then we as human beings move to seek out higher needs: the need to belong, to feel seen and valued, the need to grow and to make a difference in the world.  As Abraham Maslow put it in his famous Hierarchy of Needs, we move from “Deficiency Needs” to “Growth Needs”.

In fact, even the seemingly more mundane, operational issues of work flexibility and opportunities to work from home also stem from Growth Needs. Our human need for calm, our need to nurture family and social connections, and our needs to find activities that feel authentic to us are all part of our Spiritual life ( or if you prefer, our Existential Life).  But how many of us have ever been taught that we have Spiritual / Existential needs? 

So often we think of spirituality as being about beliefs about the big events of life such as birth, death and marriage (this is sometimes called the “hatch, match and despatch” approach), or about fleeting moments of connecting to something bigger than ourselves that we experience when watching a sunset or on a forest walk etc.  But when we understand that we have spiritual health needs we begin to notice what nurtures us and what depletes us, what feels true to ourselves and what feels like someone else’s story.  We begin to see our spiritual / existential health as existing alongside (or even encompassing) our physical and mental health and therefore something that we cannot “park” when we go to work.

Photo by Dessidre Fleming on Unsplash

The realisation that we bring all of our spiritual /existential health needs to work is being recognised by some of the world’s biggest brand names.  But, in the post-Covid workplace of the future, organisations big and small will need to meet these needs if they want to hold on to their people.  Spiritual health is not a “perk”.



  • Susannah Healy

    Psychologist, Author, Speaker, Mindfulness Teacher (Ireland & UK)

    I'm a psychologist, speaker, corporate wellness trainer, and mindfulness meditation trainer in Ireland and Great Britain. I have written for many publications in Ireland and also been a guest / Agony Aunt on various radio and tv programs. I am author of two books - my most recent is called "The Seven Day Soul: A pathway to a flourishing spirituality in every part of your life" (Hachette).