The Great Resignation: Seattle workers prioritizing respect and work-life balance over money
In 2021, 38 million Americans quit their jobs — 4.5 million in November alone. It’s being called “The Great Resignation,” and many Americans are leaving their jobs without another one lined up.
“I did feel confident that it was going to work out,” said 48-year-old Wes Plate.
Plate left his job in tech last spring after feeling physically and mentally depleted.
“I started to feel, after a while, that I wasn’t paid enough for the misery that I was feeling. The team I worked on at my last job, out of eight of us, I think four quit,” Plate said.
Research shows that mid-career workers over the age of 35 are now uncharacteristically jumping ship.
“I was a little bit inspired by young people who don’t seem to have any loyalty to their employers,” Plate said. “It’s like, oh, OK, if they can move around between jobs, why can’t I? It’s exciting to think that we have that much control over our destiny if we just make that decision.”
Plate didn’t want to find a new job right away. He used some of his retirement savings to take six months off to run ultra marathons and spend time with his teenage daughter. He just recently signed on with an Australian company that approached him to work remotely.
“We’re really focusing [on] creating a culture of kindness, where we all work hard, but we also treat each other with respect,” Plate said. “We’re trying to go a little bit differently from the way that we were treated in our past job.”
Meet the five local people who quit their jobs in the last year
“It’s not just about the money,” said Ian Cook, vice president of People Analytics at Visier, a tech company that has been collecting data from nine million employees over the past five years.
Cook says people who are quitting are choosing to prioritize work-life balance and respect. But it’s also not just high-income tech workers who are quitting.
“The retail space and the health care space saw very extreme rates of resignation and turnover,” Cook said. “In retail, they saw the highest proportion of resignations.”
People quitting retail and restaurant jobs are moving on to the gig economy, entrepreneurship, or completely different fields.
“I worked at a restaurant in Seattle, and it was a very busy place,” said Seattle’s Laurel Whitley.
Whitley said she loved her job, until the pandemic hit.
“I’m trying to think of how to say this in a nice way,” she said, laughing.
Customers were impatient, rude, and didn’t want to comply with the mask mandate. And when new management came in: “I was treated as less than in front of customers; it made me feel terrible,” Whitley said.
“So I asked to have a sit-down meeting and I was told that I should just expect that that’s how I would be treated,” she said. “So I put in my two weeks notice at that very moment. I deserve to be treated better.”
About two months later, Whitley got a job at King County Metro, making a third of what she brought in at the restaurant with tips.
“It was the best thing I ever did,” Whitley said. “I was so scared, but I haven’t looked back.”
A few weeks ago, Whitley tested positive for COVID.
“I’m panicking because all I can think of is my boss is going to yell at me because I’m putting them in a bind. That’s what it would be like at my old job,” Whitley said. “So I called, and he was so nice! He was like a grandpa, it was so sweet. He was like, ‘No, don’t worry about coming in.’ I kept saying, ‘I’m so sorry, please don’t be mad at me. I don’t want to lose my job.’ And he was like, ‘Oh, no, no, no, no. You’re not going to lose your job.'”
For Janine Worthington, her high-profile marketing job at a big tech company had taken over her life.
“I was reporting directly to an amazing CEO, I was collaborating with teams in four time zones. But the intensity of COVID, the intensity of the role, and the intensity of two major family crises landed me in a pure, [overwhelmed] state,” Worthington said. “I felt enormously stressed, burnt out, and stuck. That was the impetus for, OK, there’s got to be something else out there.”
She found a new company with a work-life balance that impressed her. Worthington’s new employer used data to determine what is most important to its workers, and then made big changes. For example, they only work from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“I was not doing 9-to-5 work hours [at my last job]. I was probably doing 24 hour days,” she laughed.
Employees found value in meeting face to face, but they were exhausted from commuting, so the company opened several satellite offices around the region to decrease commute times. And one of Worthington’s favorite perks of her new job is that internal meetings are limited to 25 or 45 minutes.
“We all are very respectful of each others’ time,” Worthington said.
After 23 years in the business, 52-year-old Korby Sears quit his job in the game industry.
“The job I had was extremely demanding,” Sears said. “Sixty hours a week, and it was exhausting.”
His plan is to live off his savings and take some time off to figure out what’s next.
“This is why I am a big proponent of universal basic income,” Sears said. “The big fear [is] that people will just sit around and get high and eat Cheetos; I think the opposite!
“The times that I have come up with the most interesting things were the times when I had time on my hands. If you look at the people that we revere: Bill Gates’ dad had money. Bill Gates refused to go to college — I think he went for one semester, and then just hung out for three years and tinkered with the personal computer,” Sears noted. “Elon Musk came up with money. He had all the time in the world to think about things.”
“[Take] the native American single mom with three kids: If she had [UBI] and time to think about things, what would she come up with? Why are we assuming the rich white guys are brilliant when really what they had was time,” he added.
Ian Cook says the 2020s are being called “The Decade of the Employee,” and the workers finally have the upper hand.
“I feel hugely empowered in a way that I’ve never felt before,” Worthington said.
“It’s been a very interesting 24 hours,” said Sears, speaking to me the day after he put in his notice. “I made the right decision.”
“I should have done this 20 years ago,” Whitley said.
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