Workers Who Quit Toxic Workplaces Need Our Support
For people who haven’t yet made the leap, remember that resigning takes time.
February 23, 2022 at 5:30 pm
When was the last time you resigned from a job?
Over 40 million people quit their jobs last year in the face of a global pandemic, the continued spread of Covid-19 and less than $1500 in stimulus payments from the U.S. government. Worldwide, millions are questioning the ways we have been taught to think about work, wealth and success.
In a capitalist country, shaped and led by the pursuit of wealth, the conversation around work and its value in our lives is inherently political. The United States of America is the same country that created economies from the enslavement of African people, the forced labor of Japanese Americans during World War II, the exploited labor of women and LGBTQIA+ people and low wages paid under the table to U.S. immigrants with little to no access to workers’ rights.
If you’re like me, a person who comes from a Black family of factory workers and frontline workers, you grew up with parents and grandparents who stayed in their jobs — no matter the circumstances. The higher your class level and education level in any society — the more opportunities you have for career mobility and the privilege to choose where you’ll live and work.
When I resigned from my first corporate job in tech, I can still remember my mom saying, “But I don’t get it. You have a salary. You have benefits. You have money. Why would you leave?” I left because I was a Black millennial looking for a work environment where I was not only paid well but treated well, a place where racism and transphobia weren’t required payment in exchange for being the one Black person in a position of leadership.
In her 20s, my grandmother moved from Macon, Mississippi, to Chicago during the Great Migration. Similar to U.S. workers leaving their jobs in the best interest of their mental, physical and emotional health, the Great Migration was one of the largest movements of people in U.S. History. Six million Black Southerners moved from the American South to the Northern, Midwestern and Western states from the 1910s to the 1970s. Black Southerners like my grandmother left their homes behind due to the racial oppression of white supremacy, the limitations of sharecropping, and farm failures due to crop damage. They wanted not only a better life. They wanted liberation.
All people want to feel safe and secure. Those of us who experience marginalization or bias based on our identities not only want to be secure but we want to feel liberated in our decisions about money and wealth. Last May, Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and professor at Texas A&M University, is said to have coined the phrase “The Great Resignation.” Other terms to describe the influx of people not only quitting their jobs but also questioning the role of work in our lives have recently been coined as “The Great Reimagination,” “The Great Reset” and “The Great Realization.”
According to Professor Klotz, via CNBC, the three trends that will transform the ways we work in 2022 will be the Great Resignation slowing down, flexible work arrangements becoming the norm instead of the exception and remote jobs becoming even more competitive. If I could add just one more trend to Professor Klotz’s theory for how work as we know it will continue to change and evolve, I would add an increase in U.S. workers protesting and unionizing for their rights to not only be employed but to be treated justly and paid equitably for their labor.
Just last year we saw 1,400 Kellogg’s workers successfully lead a 77-day strike in protest of a two-tier wage and benefits system, dozens of Amazon workers in Chicago striking for better treatment and higher wages just before the Christmas delivery rush, and Iowa City restaurant owners creating a delivery cooperative to get drivers livable wages and low delivery fees, so restaurants could continue to survive the pandemic.
In April of last year, a 27-year-old millennial wrote to Roxanne Gay’s Work Friend column in the NY Times. In their letter they wrote, “My partner and I are considering starting a family in a few years. Because I already feel like there is not enough time in the week, I wonder what getting away from the 40-hour workweek looks like. I have considered self-employment, trying out the artist lifestyle, going back into academia, mildly rejecting capitalism, but maybe I should just get over it? Thoughts?”
Roxane Gay responded, “I don’t want to discourage you, but there is no magical way to earn a full-time salary without working full-time. You have to decide what your priorities are and what you’re willing to do to nurture those priorities. If you want to pursue an artist’s life or reject capitalism, how will you pay for housing, food and health insurance? What are you willing to forego to have a more fulfilling life? That is the question; it’s an unfair choice until we, as a culture, decide there is, indeed, more to life than work.”
If anything, the past two years of living through a pandemic have shown us that there is far more to life than work and that we have choices and, together, can shift the infrastructures that force us to choose between being happy and being financially secure. Day by day, we’re pushing against work norms that have been challenged by union organizers and disability activists for decades. The pandemic has led a number of us to reconsider the ways we position work in our lives. And for those who have resigned, wow, I admire you and honor your courage.
For people who haven’t yet made the leap, remember that resigning takes time. Also, remind yourself that although work pays the bills, no check in the world could ever serve as a justification for experiencing workplace abuse, exploitation or harassment. You deserve better and I encourage you to find better and to either leave that job behind or unionize with employees you trust who can fight for better working conditions, pay and treatment right alongside you.
For people who have friends, family and colleagues who have resigned in an attempt to find better working conditions, better treatment, less micromanagement and/or better pay somewhere else, don’t be judgemental. Be careful not to project your own fears of financial insecurity onto others in your life who most certainly are investing a substantial amount of emotional and mental labor to be brave and to self-advocate. Support them and ask them what they need to leave or what they might need to find their next role, or even what they might need to take a break to rest.
Welcome to the Grand Resignation.