US workers filming themselves quitting: The viral phenomenon in an economy rocked by Covid-19

Since this spring, Americans have been quitting their jobs in record numbers in what has become known as the "Great Resignation". In August, an unprecedented 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs – and they're among 20 million others who have quit since April. Many of these workers have been flooding TikTok with videos explaining why they quit under the hashtag #quitmyjob.

Users on TikTok in the United States have been sharing videos showing them preparing to quit their jobs.
Users on TikTok in the United States have been sharing videos showing them preparing to quit their jobs. © Observers / TikTok @diskarte @ijustthinkitsfunnyhow

@itsmarisajo It’s like an elephant took its foot off my chest, but I’m also sad. Onward & upward 🤍 #quittingcorporate #quittingmyjob #HelloWinter #9to5problems ♬ Dog Days Are Over - Florence & The Machine
@5heelah Today was my last day! Proud to overcome fear. Always choose you! #corporateamerica #quittingmyjob #thegreatresignation ♬ original sound - 5heelah

According to our Observers in the United States, the pandemic has revealed the value of labour, the worthlessness of commutes and office culture, and the importance of finding a work-life balance, after experiencing years of inflation and stagnant wages.

'I didn’t want to go back to the office so I found a new job that enabled me to work remotely'

Allison Peck quit her job as a program manager in August, mainly because she didn’t want to go back to the office after transitioning to remote work during the pandemic. She has since found a new job, which enables her to work from home, and has been posting videos about her new life on TikTok.

@allifromcorporate0 Credit to @callmebyyourcarl They're not calling it The Great Resignation for nothing. #iquit #quityourjob #thegreatresignation ♬ original sound - Allison Peck

When Covid happened, I started working from home, and I have discovered that I love it. I don’t have to waste hours commuting everyday, I get to go to the gym in the morning and make it to a midday doctor's appointment if I need to. So when my old job asked me to go back to work in person, I realised that I didn’t want to go back to the office, and so I found a job that enabled me to work remotely, which was better adjusted to my new needs.

When people were sheltered in place and working from home in quarantine at the beginning of the pandemic, a lot of people lost their jobs because production had to ramp down. But now, it’s going in the other direction, where things are ramping back up again. People are starting to go back to work, and these people aren’t going back to the same jobs as before. Some people had been working for the same company for decades, but they were treated terribly during the pandemic or fired. These people are taking back control of their lives, and their relationships with work are definitely shifting. 

I think that a lot of people have been realising, since the pandemic, that life is short and precious. People are wanting to prioritise life over work now. I’m seeing a lot of people make videos on TikTok about understanding that they have worth and value in this job search process, and they’re not so desperate to just take the first job that a company offers them. 

One of the trends that we are going to see is that these larger companies are going to have to offer really competitive salaries if they want to retain workers. The company that I work for right now gives an unlimited paid time offer. I had never seen that before, and I am loving it. They even give me a grocery stipend every week. Companies are having to get really creative with the perks that they give out because it’s not enough to just get a paycheck. 

>> Read more on The Observers: US workers between ‘fear’ and ‘pride’ in massive strike movement

'These departures could really have a lasting change'

The record levels of job turnover didn’t come as a surprise to Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University. He warned that "The Great Resignation [was] coming” in May, during an interview with Bloomberg about a possible spike in job turnover. The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to Klotz about this prediction and what the long term consequences of the phenomenon will be. 

There was a backlog of resignations from those who hung onto positions they would have otherwise left during Covid, heightened levels of burnout, 'pandemic epiphanies' leading to lifestyle changes, and finally those who simply do not want to return to the office environment. 

During the pandemic, almost everyone was locked down and we were watching the news a lot, and there was lots of death around us. We know that when people have death and illness around them, they tend to think big existential thoughts: ‘Am I living my best life?’ Many workers discovered that they weren’t, and that they were spending 40 to 100 hours a week doing something they didn’t enjoy. This huge collective epiphany changed the way a lot of people see work in their lives and caused people to plan for life pivots. 

I believe that these departures could really have a lasting change. Before the pandemic, for most Americans, work was very big and central to their identity and to who they are as people. And I believe that the place of work in people’s lives has shrunk and moved to the side a little bit to make room for things like family, hobbies, travel, whatever else is important in their lives.

Anthony Klotz believes that employees’ newly found sense of empowerment has mainly been fueled by social media, which has helped people realise that they are not alone. However, he warned that this could also have a flip slide: 

Social media has given people the impression that everyone is quitting, but we do need to remember that although it is happening in record numbers, it is still a minority of workers. Social media has also sort of normalised quitting and turned it into something that is blasé, but it is actually a big deal.

The Great Resignation is also being felt in many countries in Europe, especially in Germany, where 6% of workers have left their jobs as part of Covid-related resignations, according to a recent report by HR Company SD Worx. The survey also found that the UK has been hit with 4.7% of workers quitting their jobs, while this number stands at 2.3% in France. 

However, in the developing world, the picture looks more grim, as people have been losing their jobs as a result of the pandemic – without having the luxury to choose. In the Latin American and Caribbean region, for example, 26 million people lost their jobs last year amid Covid-era shutdowns, according to the UN’s International Labour Organization