Top Reasons Employees Chose to Quit in 2021

According to a Pew Research Center survey, the top reasons include low pay, little opportunity for advancement and feeling disrespected.

New research from the Pew Research Center sheds light on the top reasons why U.S. workers left their jobs in what has come to be known as the “Great Resignation,” leading to a 20-year high “quit rate” in November.

The survey, based on 6,627 non-retired U.S. adults who quit a job in 2021, found that low pay (63%), a lack of opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) were the top three reasons Americans quit their jobs last year. The survey also shows that those who quit and are now employed elsewhere are more likely than not to say their current job has better pay, more opportunities for advancement and more work-life balance and flexibility.

Get more!  Sign up for PLANSPONSOR newsletters.

Other top reasons the survey identifies are childcare issues (cited by 48% of those with a child younger than 18), a lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours (cited by 45%) or not having good benefits such as health insurance and paid time off (cited by 43%).

A majority of those who quit in 2021 and are not retired say they are now employed, either full-time (55%) or part-time (23%), the survey shows. In this group, 61% say it was at least somewhat easy for them to find their current job, with 33% saying it was very easy and one in five saying it was very or somewhat difficult.

The pandemic has changed the way people contemplate their health and life. After going through such a major life event, people are naturally going to rethink their priorities, says Sina Chehrazi, co-founder and CEO of Nayya, an insurance benefits experience and health care management platform. Workers want to receive the same satisfaction from their jobs that they want from their life.

“Employees want to feel, ultimately, like they have a voice—that their company cares about their personal advancements as much as it does about company success. They want to see that the company will invest resources in them,” Chehrazi says. “That means not only getting traditional pay, but also fringe benefits and other types of solutions. People want to feel a sense of mutual respect and alignment between what their company is trying to accomplish and what they are trying to accomplish.”

Most workers who quit last year see their new employer and work situation as an improvement over their most recent job. According to the survey, at least half of these workers say that, compared with their last job, they are now earning more money (56%), have more opportunities for advancement (53%), have an easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%) and have more flexibility to choose when they put in their work hours (50%).

It is not just Pew research showing how demand for people is going up, and that more people are quitting for jobs that treat and pay them better, Chehrazi says. While challenging in the short term, this dynamic helps to create not only better workers, but also better companies.

“As a company, you really have to make a choice. Are you going to be people-first, or not? And it is actually a binary choice,” Chehrazi says. “The ways that you become people-first is by treating people like adults, showing them opportunities for advancement, giving them the flexibility to work in an office and outside of an office. It’s about giving them flexibility to integrate work in and around their life as opposed to just punching in and punching out like the Industrial Revolution.”

The Pew survey shows there are some people who changed jobs and who say things are either worse or unchanged compared to their last jobs. Notably, fewer than half of workers who quit a job last year (42%) say they now have better benefits, such as health insurance and paid time off. A similar share (36%) says their benefits outlook is about the same, while about one-in-five (22%) now say their current benefits are worse than at their last job.

Overall, the survey suggests that about one in five non-retired U.S. adults—including similar shares of men and women—say they quit a job at some point in 2021, meaning they left by choice and not because they were fired, laid off or because a temporary job had ended.

The survey notes that adults younger than 30 were more likely than older adults to have voluntarily left their job last year. Some 37% of young adults say they did this, compared with 17% of those ages 30 to 49, 9% of those ages 50 to 64, and 5% of those ages 65 and older.

Experiences also vary by income, education, race and ethnicity. The survey shows that about a quarter of adults with lower incomes (24%) say they quit a job in 2021, compared with 18% of middle-income adults and 11% of those with upper incomes.

Across educational attainment, the survey shows that those with a postgraduate degree are the least likely to say they quit a job at some point in 2021. Some 13% say this, compared with 17% of those with a bachelor’s degree, 20% of those with some college and 22% of those with a high school diploma or less education.