THE WASHINGTON POST – The United States (US) Labour Department reported on January 4 that 4.53 million people quit their jobs in November, breaking a record set in September and part of an almost year-long trend that has been dubbed the ‘Great Resignation’.
You might be tempted to join them: In July, Gallup found that 48 per cent of US workers were actively job-hunting or keeping an eye out for opportunities, a situation the polling organisation labelled the ‘Great Discontent’.
As a psychologist, I’ve seen that discontent reflected in my practice. Many of my patients have been doing much more soul-searching about their jobs than before the coronavirus blew up our lives.
Some, especially women, are deciding that carrying on with their jobs is not sustainable or worthwhile during the pandemic’s upheaval.
This is consistent with statistics indicating there were about 2.3 million fewer women in the workforce in February 2021 than a year earlier, and about 1.8 million fewer men.
You may be wondering how to assess whether it’s time for you to move on from your job. Here are six questions that can help you make that decision.
IS IT FULFILLING MY BASIC NEEDS?
A job should, at the very least, provide a living wage, safe working conditions, sick leave, and health and disability insurance, said psychologist and chief product officer at Uprise Health Jay Spence.
“The pandemic has unfortunately exposed how many jobs don’t even meet workers’ most basic biological and safety needs,” Spence said. While this is particularly true for those in minimum-wage jobs, skilled and knowledge-based workers also have faced inadequate COVID-mitigation procedures at work, and insufficient sick leave and health insurance.
When a person feels beaten down by trying to make ends meet and by constant fear of getting sick at work, it may not seem the time to ask this question, and it may be difficult to find the time and energy to look for other employment. But professor of organisational psychology at Sweden’s Stockholm University Claudia Bernhard-Oettel is urging workers to try.
“You might feel trapped, like you have no options,” she said. “But this is the time to try to make a change, as employers are desperate for workers. And studies show that when people who feel trapped manage to make a change, they do end up feeling better.”
IS MY WORKLOAD MANAGEABLE AND SUSTAINABLE?
With all the pandemic stressors, such as helping kids with online school, 43 per cent of employees report they have felt overloaded at work. But this problem predates the pandemic.
Professor emerita of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley Christina Maslach said her research over the past couple of decades had shown that “people were increasingly receiving messages from their bosses that ‘we’re having to do more with less’”.
However, she said, “constantly asking people to run a marathon at a sprinter’s pace is unsustainable”.
Maslach, who co-authored The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It, said job burnout is made up of a trifecta of elements: suffering a chronic stress response; maintaining a hostile or cynical attitude toward one’s job; and having a negative assessment of oneself. Burnout, in turn, is related to depression, insomnia and substance abuse, as well as cardiovascular, gastrointestinal and pain problems, among other conditions.
If your workload has been unmanageable for a while and you feel a constant time pressure that is crowding out anything else in your life, it’s time for change. You can ask for a reduction in job demands, such as the number of clients you serve or the hours you work, or an increase in resources, such as support from a supervisor and co-workers, technical help and more.
“We can’t wait for organisations to give us what we need,” said a business psychologist in Wilton, Conneticut Rebecca Longman who is the author of Let’s Love to Work: How People Create Careers They Love. “We need to be agents of change and take control back to benefit ourselves and our co-workers.”
If you make such a request and it fails to result in the relief you need, it might be time to look for another job.
DO I HAVE A TRUSTED COMMUNITY AT WORK?
One of the most important human needs is feeling as if one belongs to a group. Good relationships with supervisors, supervisees and co-workers are related to higher job satisfaction. In my work as a therapist, I often hear about how much connection or disconnection from people at work affects my patients’ well-being.
“Building or maintaining a sense of community at work is particularly hard in a remote work environment,” Spence said.
This disconnect might explain why 39 per cent of workers report feeling frustrated with colleagues, managers and leadership. If you feel disengaged from your work colleagues, try proposing group activities or one-on-one meetings, as well as prioritising collaboration when working in-person.
A bigger problem is a workplace culture characterised by low empathy and compassion, and high hostility, discrimination or even bullying. “In these environments, burnout is likely to happen,” Maslach said.
Fair and equitable treatment is crucial to how employees feel at work. A particularly injurious characteristic of unhealthy workplaces is lack of “psychological safety” – for instance, being afraid to speak up about problems because you can’t trust that others will help you and not punish you.
If you’ve tried to point out or change toxic aspects of your work culture to no avail or, worse, if you have been burned after doing so, the best recourse might be to look for employment elsewhere.
AM I RECEIVING ADEQUATE REWARDS?
Regular pay is the most obvious reward that may have become even more important during the pandemic. One survey found that a third of employees think their mental health is affected by being underpaid. In addition to salaries, workers are looking for appreciation through bonuses and increased benefits such as college tuition, child care or vacation time.
Research suggested that positive feedback and verbal recognition also can be powerful incentives, especially when they are frequent, specific and timely. Unfortunately, 28 per cent of workers said they have not felt recognised or appreciated for their work during the pandemic.
“People leave when they don’t feel respected by their boss,” said associate professor of management at the Mays Business School, Texas A&M University Anthony C Klotz who coined the term the ‘Great Resignation’. “And they leave when they don’t have a sense that their work is important and valued.”
Finally, skill development and career advancement were found to be among the most important factors contributing to job satisfaction and employee retention. “Learning opportunities keep people from considering other job options,” Bernhard-Oettel said.
So, assess how much you are getting out of your job in terms of monetary and non-monetary compensation, as well as growth opportunities, and decide whether it is commensurate with what you are giving to your job. And whether the rewards are meeting your and your family’s needs.
HOW DOES MY JOB FIT INTO MY LIFE?
The pandemic has provided a chance to step back and examine our jobs in the context of our full lives. “Many people were asking, ‘Is my job worth all the sacrifices I’ve been making with my family and my health’?” Klotz said. “My research found that these pandemic epiphanies have been contributing to the rise in resignations.”
Professor of management and deputy dean of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania Nancy Rothbard said higher stress during the pandemic drove many to examine what is really important and central to them, leading to different choices than they might have considered before. “Being at home also allows for a holistic assessment of personal and social roles or identities,” she said.
For example, ask yourself whether your job is aligned with who you want to be as a person and whether you can get behind your organisation’s values. Ideally, a job “should provide at least some purpose in your life, beyond a paycheque”, Maslach said.
Having control over how and when you do your work, and over decisions that affect your job, have also been shown to strongly affect job satisfaction and well-being. For example, almost half of employees were still working from home to some extent in October and most expected the flexibility to continue, according to a Gallup survey. If it didn’t, a third of them said they were extremely likely to look for another job.
HAVE I TRIED TO MAKE MY CURRENT JOB BETTER?
Finally, make sure to consider whether your job can be improved before you leave it. “It’s good to assess if your current job is fulfilling or could be potently fulfilling,” Rothbard said.
If your job has potential, you should try to realise it before you quit.
“It’s always worthwhile to advocate for yourself and try to ask for what you want,” Longman said. “Whether it works or not, you will learn more about your organisation and yourself, and that can guide your decisions.”
Also, keep in mind that a job change isn’t guaranteed to bring happiness, as two 2021 studies demonstrated. German research showed that workers who quit their jobs to become self-employed had lower well-being after making the change than they had predicted. And an Australian study found that a year into a job change, employees had lower job satisfaction than before leaving.