The Great Resignation is real, hitting virtually all industries and breaking labor records month after month. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics announced that 4.4 million Americans, or 3% of the entire workforce, quit their jobs in September. That’s a record high since the government started recording this metric. At the same time, jobs are growing, with 531,000 new jobs added in October. The unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, a pandemic low.

But millions of Americans remain on the sidelines, and those employees now have the upper hand. In addition to The Great Resignation, ‘Striketober’ transitioned to ‘Strikegiving.’ American workers are fed up, and they are hitting the picket lines to fight for better wages and working conditions. No longer are they grateful to have just any job, and the pandemic has been the tipping point.

A Pandemic Acceleration

A lot of people say the pandemic has changed their mindset. But I’d argue that mindset has always been there, it’s just been accelerated at a higher rate. I’ve talked with my coaching clients for years about their ideas of wanting to do work that is more meaningful or their lack of desire to work for someone else and line their pockets instead of their own. Even though we are in a global pandemic, I’m not necessarily hearing anything new. The reasons for leaving a job are the same, but the pandemic has helped people reach their tipping point faster.

People are now in search of more money, more flexibility and more happiness. They are rethinking the value of work and how they spend their time. They believe work must accommodate life instead of the other way around.

Related: Do You Live to Work or Work to Live?

Workers now want the flexibility given to them in the pandemic long-term, and they are leaving their jobs in droves to find it, often without the next job lined up.

Before that Career Break

Some people are using their time between jobs to redirect their focus in life, explore new careers or train for new skills. But before you turn in your resignation, it’s important to get organized. Here are some to-dos before leaving your current job:

  1. Examine your personal finances. Are you in a position to sustain a period of time with no income? I have some clients who say they could take an entire year off of work and still be okay. They wouldn’t lose their house, often because they have a spouse or partner continuing to work. There’s a saying: “Job security is not how likely you will stay in your current job, but how likely you will find the next job.” If you have a strong belief in your ability to find your next job, that’s security. But you need to make sure you are financially secure enough because finding that job can definitely take longer than planned.

Harvard Business Review reports employees between the ages of 30 and 45 years old have had the greatest increase in resignation rates this year. That could be because younger people haven’t built up the necessary financial reserves yet and likely don’t have a spouse to depend on for a second income.

  1. Look into your health coverage. Find out what it will cost to continue your health insurance or source a new plan through the marketplace. It’s a good idea to take care of all outstanding doctor and dentist appointments before ending any health care coverage.
  1. Get details about your PTO. Find out whether you will be paid for unused time off or if you should expend that prior to leaving your company.
  1. Consider a leave of absence or altering your hours. Before you quit a job, you should examine all options. Is it possible to take an extended leave from your current job? It will likely be unpaid leave, but it could give you the necessary time to reflect on your situation and future. You could also possibly reduce your hours at your current job to give yourself that time. Get creative with a possible hybrid arrangement if you want to continue to work from home but your company is returning to the office. Think of nuances, instead of binary all or nothing agreements.
  1. Take inventory of your current job situation. People often leave a job in search of greener pastures, only to find the same situation at their next job. Take a deep dive into your current position and identify what no longer works for you. Is that your actual job responsibilities, the industry you are in, how much you are paid, burnout or a combination of factors?

Whether you are considering changing careers or just taking a break, use the time wisely. Take a class that interests you – you never know whether it could lead to something, whether that’s a hobby or a career. Follow your curiosity and test the market by having conversations with people in your desired industry or position, often referred to as informational interviews.

Signs of the Times

Everyone has bad days at work, and that doesn’t necessarily mean you should quit your job. But people are thinking about it. According to a new CNBC|Momentive Workforce Survey of 11,000+ workers, one in three workers say they’ve seriously considered quitting in recent months.

So, how do you know when it’s time to start looking for a new role? I recently spoke with a reporter from CNN about signs it’s time to quit your job. Here’s a quick summary:

  • If you feel as if there is no room for growth. Being passed over for promotions and pay raises is one way to stunt advancement at an organization – as is unchallenging work.
  • If you don’t have the respect of your boss. If you’ve tried to have conversations with your boss about your level of burnout or other obstacles to doing your job, and you don’t feel like you are being taken seriously, that can be a red flag that things won’t change in the future.
  • If you have a toxic boss. The impact of toxic workplaces goes well beyond the office. Employees report feeling emotionally drained, experience lower well-being and even increased conflict at home.
  • If you find yourself procrastinating. Almost everyone has been afflicted by procrastination at one time or another. But if you find yourself constantly procrastinating at work, it could be a sign you no longer have passion for your job.
  • If you feel you are not aligned with the company culture. A company’s culture directly affects employee engagement so if you aren’t aligned, it could be time to look for a different fit.

Beyond Burnout

Burnout is surging during the pandemic and causing people to reach their breaking points. A recent McKinsey & Co. report revealed 42% of women and 35% of men said they feel burned out often or almost always in 2021, which is higher than in 2020. Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates were higher among those who worked in fields that had extreme increases in demand due to the pandemic, such as health care and tech.

How Can You Ensure Employee Retention?

If you are a leader managing a team, there are steps you can take to reduce your employee resignation rates.

First, you need to understand the data behind the problem. Divide employees into segments such as location and job role to understand different populations. Explore metrics such as compensation, time between promotions, amount of pay increases, tenure, performance and training opportunities. It may be time to develop a tailored retention program based on the gaps.

Companies should also acknowledge the people who have stuck it out with them for the past two years and show their recognition, whether that’s verbal recognition or perhaps financial gains.

Smart businesses are paying attention to the need to pay existing workers more in order to retain them. Employer surveys show companies are expecting to increase wages about 3% in 2022, which is up slightly from 2021. That number could go even higher as companies work to keep their employees and make themselves more attractive to job seekers. They are also offering sign-on bonuses, upskilling and free college tuition.

Another important factor in retention is open communication. If you have an open dialogue with your employees, you won’t be blindsided if the employee is planning on leaving. Establish personal connections to have a pulse on what’s going on with your direct reports personally – so that you understand what is important to each employee, their pain points and where their boundaries lie. Use your upcoming end-of-year performance evaluations to set the stage for employment engagement in 2022.

If you are or considering being part of The Great Resignation, employ the strategies outlined in our free, e-book Job Search Strategy: Reach Beyond the Obvious.

Download our Job Search Strategy E-book