Diverse City

COVID-19 has motivated many people to consider their priorities in the workforce. Early last year, millions of jobs were lost overnight. And even though a lot of those jobs came back, workers are walking away from them in droves. It’s been dubbed “The Great Resignation”: the mass exodus of workers in our country. 

Upwork Inc., an American freelancing platform, released a study in August titled “The Great Resignation: From Full-Time to Freelance.” Using data samples from over 4,000 Americans (mostly white-collar workers), the survey found that nearly 10 million Americans are turning to freelance remote work for greater flexibility. It’s not just high-paid execs transitioning; low-wage workers and women are also taking back their power. Many of us have noticed signs in windows at some of our favorite fast-food joints, asking for patience and understanding as the establishment juggles wait times and shifting business hours caused by worker shortages — if they’re open at all.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, in August, about 721,000 people nationwide quit their jobs in retail and 892,000 in accommodation and food services — industries representing higher quit rates as compared to others. The phenomenon is being driven, in part, by workers who aren’t willing to be devalued in the workplace anymore and would rather quit and seek better opportunities. This is particularly true in fields where workers are overworked and underpaid. Women, who experienced higher job losses than men during the pandemic (and who have a higher concentration in the service industry), also acted as caretakers in their own families and had very little flexibility in navigating school closures. Many who stayed employed were forced to work long hours, sometimes putting in weeks without a day off. That undoubtedly sent stress levels through the roof.  

According to a Colorado Sun report, the age group that left their jobs at the highest rate during the pandemic were people aged 25-34, followed by those aged 20-24. Women between 25 and 34 years old made the greatest workforce exodus. 

Over the last decade, women have increasingly been seen at the workplace with their children in tow. Part of that is due to on-site child care or because of flexible work arrangements. I reminisce about when my child was an infant (I was working a customer service job at the time) and I brought a cooler and breastpump to work every day so I could pump on my breaks and during lunch because I spent long hours away from my child.

Many women, particularly in lower-wage jobs, are often forced out of their jobs when employers learn they are pregnant or once they return from maternity leave. And if she happens to be the only female in her workplace, her feelings of guilt could be amplified for asking her employer to make special accommodations for her family. 

Women have contributed massively to the workforce — The Center for American Progress reports “from 1970 to 2013, women’s increased labor force participation and increased earnings grew the U.S. economy by 13.5 percent, which translates into an additional $2 trillion in economic activity.” Women have an incredible stake in the growing economy. Experts point to the need for legislative fixes to trigger long-lasting change, especially as women — particularly women of color — are leaving the workforce.

While many of its impacts have been horrible, COVID-19 has given us a rare opportunity to think about workplace systems — but positive change doesn’t have to come through force of law. Employers can take their own steps to support workplace child care, sick leave, stipends and living wages to support — and keep — the employees responsible for their bottom line.