What quitters understand about the job market

Why the sudden burst of quitting? One general theory is that we’re living through a fundamental shift in the relationship between employees and bosses that could have profound implications for the future of work. Up and down the income ladder, workers have new reasons to tell their boss to shove it. Lower-wage workers who benefited from enhanced unemployment benefits throughout the pandemic may have returned to the job and realized they’re not being paid enough. Now they’re putting their foot down, forcing restaurants and clothing stores to fork over a higher wage to keep people on staff.

Meanwhile, white-collar workers say they feel overworked or generally burned out after a grueling pandemic year, and they’re marching to the corner office with new demands. A recent Bloomberg–Morning Consult survey found that nearly half of workers under 40 said they might leave their job unless their employer let them continue to work from home at least part of the time. With white-collar quits at an all-time high, it seems many of them aren’t bluffing. Higher-income workers—whose their corneas are seared from several million Zoom calls, and whose lower backs have been brutalized by months of using the couch as an office chair—are flush with savings stored up during a year of existential tragedy; quitting is their way of commemorating the fragility of existence in face of cosmic dread. In short: YOLO.

Quitting gets a bad rap in life, as it’s associated with pessimism, laziness, and lack of confidence. In labor economics, however, quits signify the opposite: an optimism among workers about the future; an eagerness to do something new; and a confidence that if they jump ship, they won’t drown but rather just land on a better, richer boat.