'I let money get in the way': Most recent job quitters have regrets or don't plan to stay in new role

Quitting isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Most of the millions of Americans who quit jobs during the Great Resignation regret the move, don't like their new position enough to stay or are searching for a new gig, according to a Harris Poll survey for USA TODAY March 18-20.

Many workers acted hastily amid a pandemic that fostered severe worker shortages, a seismic shift to remote work and widespread burnout, employment experts say.

"People will make very fast moves," says Kathryn Minshew, CEO of The Muse, an online job board and advice company that specializes in helping candidates find the best cultural fit. Then they wonder, "Did I just make a mistake?"

About 1 in 5 workers who quit during the past two years regret it, and a similar share are remorseful about starting their new job, according to Harris Poll’s nationwide survey of about 2,000 adults.

Sara Norton-Sanner of Albuquerque, New Mexico, loved her communications job at a local animal shelter. But in November, when a friend told her of an opening for a similar position at a nonprofit education group, she eagerly applied. It offered a much higher salary at a national organization with an opportunity to rise to director.

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The pandemic, including the skyrocketing inflation that strained her budget, provided a nudge. Norton-Sanner, hadn’t gotten a raise in her three years at the animal shelter.

"It made me consider – Is this what I want to do long term?" she says. "The pandemic just kind of pushed me over the edge to take a risk."

Sara Norton-Sanner, with Ari and Maggie.
Sara Norton-Sanner, with Ari and Maggie.

She accepted an offer after two Zoom interviews, just three weeks after applying. But, she says, the job didn't come close to fulfilling her hopes. Instead of writing an annual report and other publications, as she was promised, she was firing off social media posts.

Norton-Sanner says she also endured a barrage of criticism without any guidance on how to meet her manager’s expectations. And although she was told it was a 9-to-5 job, she had to take calls, or work, late at night and on weekends and Christmas Eve.

"I wish I had taken more time to research" the position and company. Norton-Sanner says. Amid the labor shortage, the nonprofit had been looking to fill the vacancy for months, and the hiring process "was a little fast."

It didn't help that she was working remotely because of COVID-19.

"I felt so disconnected, so isolated," she says. "I couldn’t go down the hall to ask a question."

Norton-Sanner beat herself up over her decision to leave the animal shelter. "I was crying and asking myself: Why did I leave someplace I loved so much? I let money get in the way."

There was a happy ending. In February, she left the education position and took a job at an animal welfare group for the same salary.

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Looking for new opportunities

Even the majority of quitters who aren't second-guessing their decisions don't seem content. Just 26% of job switchers say they like their new position enough to stay, and a third are already searching for a new position with better working conditions, prestige or pay, survey results show.

Of those with regrets:

  • 30% say their new role is different from what they expected.

  • 36% bemoan a loss of work-life balance.

  • 24% miss the culture of their previous job.

  • 24% say they didn't thoroughly evaluate the pros and cons of leaving.

And fewer than 4 in 10 quitters feel happy, successful or valued in their new roles.

Initially, their decision to jump ship held much promise.

Every month since June, more than 4 million workers – or 3% of total U.S. employment – left their jobs, typically for new, higher-paying ones, Labor Department figures show. Each monthly tally has notched a new record or hovered just below all-time highs.

Experts traced the unprecedented wave of resignations to various COVID-19-related factors, including a desire to work remotely permanently; burnout as employees filled in for absent co-workers; a career switch, especially for lower-paid restaurant and retail workers; and decisions to start businesses.

Many of those harboring regrets aren't staying in their new jobs for the minimum one year that used to be considered standard, Minshew says. Forty-one percentof candidates say they would give it just two to six months if they felt a new job wasn't as advertised, according to a survey in January by The Muse of about 2,500 millennial and Gen Z job seekers. About 20% would bolt within a month, and 15% would stay seven to 11 months.

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The figures suggest that at least some of the 33.8 million quits recorded since June could be traced to a smaller group of workers who may be hopping among multiple jobs, Minshew says.

Some are returning to their former employers. Among new hires at companies on LinkedIn, 4.5% were so-called boomerang workers last year, up from 3.9% in 2019, according to the job networking site.

Here's why so many workers are having second thoughts.

Focused too much on wages

With the pandemic causing widespread worker shortages, "a lot of companies enticed people with pay," says Jim McCoy, senior vice president of talent solutions at ManpowerGroup.

McCoy said health care and other benefits, as well as the new company's culture, values and "whether they treat people with respect," are factors to consider.

Michael Brady, president of an Express Employment Professionals franchise in Jacksonville, Florida, estimates that 10% to 15% of the maintenance technicians, truck drivers and manufacturing and warehouse workers who switched jobs for an extra dollar or two in hourly wages over the past six months returned to their previous jobs.

It’s not all about remote work

Similarly, many employees made a switch because their former employer was requiring staffers to come back to the office and they wanted to keep working remotely, McCoy says. So they jumped to a new employer that allowed remote work but didn't fully weigh other factors, such as benefits.

Zoom interviews don’t reveal culture

Online video interviews during the pandemic have left little opportunity for candidates to get a sense of their new company's culture, McCoy and Minshew say.

"You don't have the luxury of getting to meet people," McCoy says.

They also miss out on the chance in-person interviews provide to observe prospective co-workers and their environment, Minshew says.

Desperate companies hype jobs

Employers struggling to hire workers during the labor shortage may be overstating or misrepresenting work conditions, Minshew and McCoy say.

"They may feel pressure to sugarcoat things," Minshew says.

For example, she says, a hiring manager may tout a company's favorable work-life balance but then "expect employees to respond to emails at 10 p.m." or promote a job's creative aspects even though most of its duties are administrative.

Others promise a permanent remote work setup but then call employees back to the office, she says.

Nearly 40% of businesses said they've hired someone who didn't meet their usual qualifications to fill an open position, according to a Harris Poll survey late last year for Express Employment Professionals. That can lead to mismatches between workers and jobs.

No questions asked

In rushed Zoom interviews, some companies provide little chance for candidates to ask questions, Minshew says. It’s no wonder they’re surprised, she says, when a new job or company doesn’t live up to expectations.

The rage quit

Many employees quit in a rage during the pandemic because they were overworked, underappreciated or underpaid, or their employer had little regard for their mental health, according to a Skynova survey of about 700 workers and 300 managers. Skynova provides online billing services for small businesses.

Of those who left in a huff, 41% tried to get their old job back, survey results show.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Great Resignation: Most workers who recently quit jobs have regrets