Why Women Are Quitting Their Jobs During a Pandemic

The rampant instability of our nation has caused some to face some cold, hard truths about their happiness

Photo: Grace Cary/Getty Images

Last year, roughly five months into the pandemic, I considered quitting my job. To be frank, I just wasn’t happy there but I was deeply conflicted. I felt a profound sense of guilt. How could I be contemplating quitting my decent-paying, full-time job when millions were struggling, losing their jobs as the government allowed them to further descend into poverty and turmoil?

But the thing is, realizing that I wasn’t happy with my job is a “squeezing-the-toothpaste-out-of-tube” situation. I couldn’t go back. While Covid-19 took a lot from us collectively, it gave me a lot of perspective, and I knew I wasn’t alone.

Whether it’s the pandemic revealing toxic workplace culture (for both those that are remote and risking their lives to go to work) or deciding to pursue dreams they had on the back burner, many people are fed up with the jobs and making big changes. I spoke to several of them to understand why they choose to make such a big decision during such a fraught time.

Isabelle, 24, former associate editor at an LGBTQ publication

Isabelle quit the first week of January, right after she got back from the holidays.

“Covid definitely made me stop and take stock of my life. Within that, I realized really and truly how unhappy I was at my position… if I’m going to be trapped in this environment and the same thing every day, I just don’t want this to be my everyday anymore.”

Working in the media world, Isabelle knew there was a lot of risk in quitting her job without another one lined up. She wasn’t sure if there would be work readily available for her. Not to mention, she worked on a small team and she felt guilty about leaving them in the lurch. But she knew that she couldn’t keep working there for their sake.

“I haven’t been without a job since I was 16… but I also felt ready and confident in wanting to give my resignation.” All of those feelings of fear and anxiety dissipated when she finally put in her resignation. She was unhappy at her job, both due to internal issues and a feeling that she had outgrown it. Covid-19 helped her realize that didn’t have to continue to live that way. Even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, she quit because she felt stable. Not necessarily financially, but mentally. She knew that she would find a way.

“Things have been so unstable, next year isn’t a given.”

Erica, 39, former worker in mergers and acquisitions in the energy industry

In 2016, Erica started her own company and has been working on it ever since, while still doing full-time work in the energy industry.

When her company offered a program last September that would allow her to receive severance, she thought it was too great of an opportunity to give up. She was able to take her severance and essentially use it as seed funding for a project that she had been funding herself for four years.

“With Covid, it really focuses you to take a look at your priorities. You can’t take it for granted that you could just do this next year. Things have been so unstable, next year isn’t a given.”

Trying to weigh the two options of staying at her job and running her own business, Erica found that staying full-time wasn’t as rational as people might think. While leaving her job was financially riskier, Erica found that the risk of living an unfulfilled was much greater.

Elena, 23, former membership associate at a trade association

Elena took a job as a membership associate right out of college. It was the type of job so many of us are familiar with: The nerves of being unemployed at graduation made any job offer seem like Willy Wonka’s golden ticket.

When she started working at her job, Elena quickly realized that most of the other people who worked there got the job through nepotism. And that was just the tip of the iceberg. After witnessing various cases of inappropriate behavior from her co-workers, working from home was salvation to Elena.

“I feel like every single person I know won’t put up with going into an office, wasting time commuting, wasting money commuting, and sitting in a modern-day panopticon where your boss just watches you do shit and you pretend to work.” She felt like everyone she knew was trying to find a new job so they wouldn’t have to return to their office.

Dreading a return to the office was a sign that Elena couldn’t continue working at her job. So when a recruiter reached out to her on LinkedIn, she jumped on the opportunity. Her new job is a contract role and ends in a few months, meaning that by quitting her job, she was missing out on the consistency of her former position.

But even with those stipulations, Elena doesn’t regret her decision at all. With the way her co-workers treated her and one another, Elena said that the only thing she misses is the office gym.

In the end, I decided to quit my job. I can’t pinpoint one exact reason. But there’s something about the whole world stopping, no more commute, no more monotony, to distract you from your own happiness.

I decided not to live that way anymore. And I’ll tell anyone who will listen. You don’t have to, either.

Chika is a freelance writer who writes about the politics of life. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter (she’s on both way too much).

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