Why workers will continue to quit in droves

New data reveals what’s fueling the astonishing wave of resignations—and highlights how companies can turn the tide toward retention.

Why workers will continue quitting

“The Great Resignation” is actually pretty straightforward.

Sure, it’s a culmination of multitudes of factors—including the various traumas inflicted by the pandemic. Employees are also certainly seizing this moment of leverage to secure a more lucrative gig. But it’s also very much about workers’ pursuit of flexibility and autonomy.

The Conference Board’s latest workforce survey backs this notion, reporting that a quarter of employees who’ve recently changed jobs did so for the ability to work from wherever they please. The survey, which gathered feedback from more than 1,200 U.S. workers, also confirms that workplace flexibility plays a key role in supporting workers’ mental health.

But are companies listening to what their employees are telling them? The data might offer some hints.

Ten key findings from the survey include:

1. Among workers who quit during the pandemic, a quarter did so for the ability to work from anywhere.

In its survey, the Conference Board asked respondents, “If you voluntarily left your organization during the pandemic for another job, what were your reasons?” The data shows:

  • “Better pay” and “career advancement” remain the top reasons for changing jobs, according to 37% and 31% of respondents, respectively.
  • Among workers who recently changed jobs, 24% did so “for the ability to work from home/anywhere.”
  • Just 8% sought a new gig due to “concerns over vaccine mandates.”

2. Despite decades in the office, baby boomers are quitting for the option to work from anywhere—and at nearly twice the rate of their younger colleagues.

  • Baby boomers quit for the ability to work from anywhere at nearly twice the rate of Gen Xers and millennials:
    • Baby boomers: 17%
    • Gen X: 9%
    • Millennials: 9%
  • For millennials, “greater faith in the trajectory of the new organization” (10%) was as much a reason to change jobs as the ability to work anywhere (9%).

3. Men left their jobs for a flexible work location at more than twice the rate of women.

  • For women, “career advancement” was a greater driver; for men, “better pay,” “better job fit,” and “flexible work location policy” were significantly greater.
    • Flexible work location policy:
      • Women: 9%
      • Men: 21%
    • Career advancement:
      • Women: 35%
      • Men: 29%

“Story after story has covered the premium younger generations place on flexibility in the workplace,” said Rebecca Ray, executive VP of human capital at The Conference Board. “But as these survey results demonstrate, that desire is not unique to millennials. Indeed, at more than twice the rate of their younger counterparts, baby boomers left their jobs for the ability to work from anywhere—whether they are working from the comfort of home—or from an RV in Yellowstone.”

4. COVID concerns are not the reason offices are empty.

  • Seventy-two percent of respondents cited “work-life balance” as the reason they work remotely.
  • Productivity and safety were also factors, but much less so.

5. Fifty percent of women are working remotely, compared to just 37% of men.

  • Significantly more women are working completely remotely, and more men are working a hybrid schedule or are completely on-site.
    • Remote:
      • Women: 50%
      • Men: 37%
    • Hybrid:
      • Women: 39%
      • Men: 47%
    • On-site:
      • Women: 10%
      • Men: 14%

“Businesses must ensure that remote workers—many of whom are women—receive the same developmental and promotional opportunities as those who are on-site,” said Amy Lui Abel, VP of human capital research at The Conference Board. “Companies should be mindful of this potential pitfall, creating a level playing field for all workers as they develop their talent strategies in a world where less work is conducted in the office.”

6. Returning to the office is all about personal connections.

  • Respondents listed the top reasons to return to the physical workplace as:
    • Connecting with team members: 74%
    • Socializing and gathering with colleagues: 55%
    • Brainstorming with teams: 48%
    • Attending events and organizational activities: 39%
    • Connecting with manager: 37%
  • Fifteen percent of respondents “see no value at all” in returning to the physical workplace. 

7. Half the workforce is suffering from deteriorating mental health—even as the pandemic subsides.

  • Fifty-one percent indicated a deterioration of their mental health since the onset of the pandemic.
  • More women (54%) than men (46%) have seen a deterioration of their mental health since the onset of the pandemic.

8. Flexibility is the most effective way to support workers’ mental health.

The survey asked: “Which of the following working conditions, programs or offerings do you believe would be helpful in supporting employee mental health?” The data shows:

  • Flexible official work hours and/or compressed work week: 70%
  • Flexible/hybrid work schedule: 69%
  • Work from home/anywhere: 63%

9. New and different offerings can also support workers’ mental health.

In response to the question, “I would like my organization to offer…” the survey says:

  • Programs on how to thrive and flourish versus simply building resilience: 77%
  • Apps to address mental health challenges of workers: 55%
  • Virtual reality solutions to address mental health challenges of workers: 29%

10. Workers want organizations that set boundaries—and leaders who respect those boundaries.

In response to, “Which of the following strategies would be most effective in setting work/life boundaries for you?”:

  • Sixty-six percent of respondents want their organizations to encourage employees to disconnect at the end of normal working hours.
  • Sixty percent want to be able to take “no-work” vacation days without guilt. 

“The survey also reveals that almost half of workers believe that their managers adequately address mental health concerns—but 1 in 5 do not,” said Dr. Srini Pillay, co-founder and chief medical officer at Reulay, Inc. “An overwhelming majority agree, however, that organizations should offer training to managers so that they can better address the sensitive mental health issues of workers.”

Over to you, communicators. How is your organization engaging workers amid such ongoing uncertainty?


One Response to “Why workers will continue to quit in droves”

    Suzanne Hendery says:

    Excellent article and so topical. Thank you @robbybrumberg for providing data and some new ideas to help our employees thrive and flourish! Here at Renown Health in Reno, NV we are encouraging employees to take scheduled “mental health/self care days” as part of their covered sick time to refresh and recharge- a simple gesture that may make a difference. https://www.renown.org/about/newsroom/renown-health-leads-nation-with-focus-on-clinician-and-employee-wellness

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