By Charlie Wells and Claire Ballentine
US workers can’t quit quitting.
Two years into the Great Resignation, which saw an unprecedented number of workers change jobs during the pandemic, the economy has shifted. Inflation is running hot. Recession fears are growing. The stock market is turbulent. Yet workers continue to ditch their jobs in record numbers — many knowing full well that the outlook is beginning to dim.
In the latest data, 4.4 million Americans voluntarily left their jobs in April alone. That’s among the highest levels in figures going back to 2000. And the trend shows no signs of slowing down: a third of American workers said they were considering quitting in the next six to 12 months, according to a recent survey by human-resources firm Mercer.
The quitting continues despite the fact that leaders at some of America’s largest companies have been warning of “very, very high risk” of recession and an economic “hurricane.” There are also early signs of a shift in the labor market, with employers ranging from the Winklevoss twins to Elon Musk talking of hiring freezes and layoffs.
That’s not stopping Alma Molina, a 36-year-old political strategist living in Washington, D.C., who recently quit her job to take a sabbatical.
Like many who have quit at this later stage of the Great Resignation, Molina had hindsight on her side. She’d seen other departures — some sudden, some sad, others rash — and knew she wanted to leave in a way that would help her career and her lifestyle. Recession was a consideration, she said, but she’s confident she can weather whatever comes.
In December, she turned to Joe Bautista, founder of the Grow With Joe financial advisory service. They crafted a plan for a manageable amount of credit card debt and calculated that because Molina had been such an aggressive saver, she would still eventually be able to retire on $200,000 a year, even with some time away from work. She gave her employer two months’ notice and left in mid-April.
Since then, she’s had a reunion in Miami with friends from college, tended to a sick grandmother, helped her family fund a kitchen renovation, took some Tony Robbins leadership trainings, and has even been attending sessions across the country to learn more about pranic healing, all while plotting how to build her own business.
‘Make the Most Of It’
For younger workers who didn’t experience the last major economic slowdown — the Great Recession of 2007-09 — the concept is an abstract one that doesn’t cause much anxiety.
Take Martin Anquetil: the 23-year-old from Los Angeles left two jobs in the past two years. He went straight to Google after graduating from the University of Southern California in 2020, then quit after a year and moved to a non-fungible token startup. He made so much investing in and selling NFTs that he was able to quit that job in April to figure out what he wants to do next.
“I was like 10 years old when the previous recession started,” he said. “My sense is you might as well make the most of it and see what this moment has to offer.”
Jay Zigmont, founder of financial advisory service Live, Learn, Plan, said he’s seeing more clients aim for an approach he calls “FILE” — Financial Independence, Live Early. That contrasts with the popular “FIRE” movement, an acronym for Financial Independence, Retire Early.
FILE “means having enough financial independence that you can pick what you want to do rather than just do it for the money,” Zigmont said. “The bottom line is it is a search for joy and happiness rather than just a paycheck.”
Read more: US Job Jumpers Reconsider and Quit Again Months Later
For many Americans, the pandemic has fueled a sense that life is too short to get stuck is an unsatisfying job. Anita Garcia, a software engineer in Monterey Bay, California, faced the deaths of six relatives last year, and the lead developer on her team at work died of Covid. She knew she had to make a change, swapping her full-time role for a new part-time position.
Now, she works less than 30 hours a week for a state-funded program at California State University helping students break into the tech industry. Despite the risk of a recession, she has no regrets.
“I started asking myself, ‘If I were to pass away today or tomorrow, would I want to die in this role?’” she said. “And the answer was no.”
Heidi Dusek isn’t worried about a recession rattling her plans either. The 42-year-old from Wisconsin has decided to “downshift” her job as the executive director of a private family foundation.
Along with her husband and three kids, she’s driving their new RV to Alaska while working three days a week on a partial unpaid leave. She enjoys her work, but needed more flexibility.
She currently plans take all of 2023 off, with her husband resigning from his job as a teacher.
A potential recession “has us thinking a little bit differently about our budget,” Dusek said. But most of the funds for their year off are already stashed in a savings account.
“I don’t want to look back on my life and think, I wish I would’ve,” she said.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com.