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The Great Resignation, also known as the quitting epidemic or the Big Quit, refers to the large numbers of Americans that quit their jobs during the pandemic. Resignations occurred during lockdowns, but the quitting epidemic accelerated as lockdowns ended.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics found that approximately 4 million Americans left their jobs in July 2021. Over 10.9 million job openings were reported at the end of the month. Resignations hit their highest point in April of 2021 and continued at higher than average rates ever since. Health concerns drive many resignations, but COVID-19 isn't always a direct cause.

COVID Concerns

Concern over COVID-19 was a motivating factor for some resignations. People especially vulnerable to the virus didn't feel safe working with the public. Healthcare is only one example: other frontline employees include those working in public transportation, retail, and the service industry.

Lockdowns closed businesses and public venues across the country, but some employees chose to quit instead of returning to jobs that required interaction with large numbers of people.

Man with mask looking out of window Justin Paget / Getty Images
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Retirement

The pandemic and lockdowns prompted some older people to retire earlier than they'd originally planned. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 was a significant factor, especially at the beginning of the pandemic when vaccines weren't available.

Some older workers used time during lockdown to organize their finances and other assets so they could move up anticipated retirement dates instead of returning to work.

senior woman at home using laptop insta_photos / Getty Images
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Stress and Burnout

Employment-related stress and burnout aren't new issues, but many employees experienced additional stress brought on by the COVID pandemic. Some employers responded to uncertainty during the pandemic with hiring freezes and layoffs that put additional stress on remaining employees.

Unfortunately, pay raises weren't always forthcoming for employees taking on greater responsibility. Increased workloads, stress, and health concerns drove some employees to leave their jobs to protect their health. Constant stress can have negative effects on physical as well as mental health.

Shot of a young businesswoman wearing a mask suffering with a headache while working on a laptop in an office Moyo Studio / Getty Images
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Mental Health

Layoffs and working from home during lockdowns gave many people a chance to experience a different lifestyle. They explored new interests and hobbies or spent more time with family.

For some, returning to their previous jobs meant a return to long commutes and spending most of their time at work. Employees that chose to resign instead of going back to the office frequently cited mental health concerns such as stress, anxiety, and depression.

family having fun at home Prostock-Studio / Getty Images
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Physical Health

Working from home and layoffs also had an impact on physical health. Long hours at work often led to chronic sleep deprivation and fatigue, lack of exercise, and unhealthy eating habits. A sudden increase in free time gave many people an opportunity to cook healthy meals, catch up on sleep, and integrate physical activity into their daily routines.

Some people chose to quit their jobs when lockdown ended and look for new jobs with opportunities for flexible scheduling or remote work options.

Front view portrait of man with tablet doing workout exercise indoors at home. Halfpoint / Getty Images
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Healthcare Professionals

Many healthcare workers, including nurses, technicians, therapists, and other support staff, are leaving their jobs to protect their mental and physical health. The risk of exposure to COVID-19 is just one reason among many. An influx of patients during outbreaks and inadequate staffing led to long hours and constant overtime.

Some medical professionals experience emotional stress from losing patients and frustration with inadequate protective measures.

Serious, overworked, very sad male health care worker Juanmonino / Getty Images
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Retail and Service Industry

Employees in the retail and service industries started resigning in large numbers during the pandemic. Fear of COVID infection drove early resignations, but other factors are also at play.

Cashiers, waitresses, and other employees in stores, restaurants, and fast food are frequently paid low wages with very few benefits. They're often forced to deal with angry customers that argue against mask mandates and other policies. The constant stress and risk of exposure take a toll on their mental and physical health.

Frustrated owner with waitress talking in closed cafe, small business lockdown due to coronavirus. Halfpoint / Getty Images
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Inadequate Safety Measures

Employees in a wide range of industries resigned over safety concerns. Resignations were more likely in workplaces that didn't provide sufficient protective gear or enforce social distancing. Company policies related to COVID testing and isolation or quarantines were important factors as well.

Workers were more likely to quit if they felt pressured to skip COVID tests or experienced animosity from employers after isolating due to positive tests.

Young woman with face mask back at work in office after lockdown Halfpoint / Getty Images
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Education

The pandemic caused widespread disruptions in education. Rules for public schools varied by state, and private schools and colleges didn't always follow recommendations. Educators learned to use technology for remote learning and continued teaching during lockdown.

Some private schools and universities opened classrooms earlier than schools in the public sector. Teachers resigned for many reasons such as returning to classrooms early, concerns related to COVID exposure, lack of support, and stress.

Female teacher disinfecting tables before the children arrive in the classroom Drazen Zigic / Getty Images
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Concern For Family

Some people quit their jobs to reduce the risk of exposing vulnerable family members to COVID-19. Lockdowns let employees in many fields take on more responsibility for sick relatives, and they chose to continue providing care instead of returning to work full-time.

A similar dynamic occurred in some households with children. Families learned to manage with one parent working from home, or not working in outside employment at all, and were reluctant to give up the benefits of that lifestyle when lockdown ended, even at the risk of reduced income.

Grandmother and granddaughter laughing and embracing at home Ridofranz / Getty Images

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This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.