Intense work can be exhausting and burnout-inducing—and thrilling. Walking away isn’t so easy.
In my dreams, Google begs me to come back. Human resources tells me that they have the perfect software-engineering role and that I alone can do it. Even though it’s been three years since I quit—frustrated by sexual harassment, an excruciating HR investigation, and being discouraged from applying for a promotion, which led to a reduction in pay—I always accept their offer, flooded with joy and relief. I clip my holographic badge back on to my belt loop; I clutch my corporate MacBook to my chest. Reunited with my colleagues, I throw myself back into debugging, ecstatic that my life has a clear purpose again.
I always wake up disappointed. Even though I’m glad I left Google, after which I worked at Facebook briefly before exiting tech in mid-2021, moving on was complicated. Like many workers who were part of the so-called Great Resignation, I walked away because of burnout worsened by the pandemic, along with a heightened sense that life is short. Quitting seemed like the path to taking control of my mental and physical well-being. But it was not the panacea I’d anticipated.
As a culture, we’ve come a long way in identifying the bad parts of all-consuming jobs, but saying goodbye still often comes with an enormous sense of grief. I’ve never felt more alive than when doing intense work in an intimate environment. Even after nearly two years of reflection, I still can’t decide if that euphoria is bad for me, incompatible with a healthy life, or if labor is, in fact, sacred. Talking with fellow quitters about what we lost when leaving, I found that there’s a fundamental tension between doing projects that thrill us and being able to shut our laptops, disconnect, and sleep through the night. We hoped that career switches would solve the problem, but we’ll probably be struggling with it our whole lives.
Derek Thompson: Three myths of the Great Resignation
I arrived at Google in 2015, right after college, and immediately fell in love with the full-throttle pace. My team combatted misinformation, and our bosses warned us that our mistakes could kill people. When democracy seemed to be melting down outside our office tower, I believed I had the power to help.
This shared mission, plus the considerable perks that tethered me to the office, made relationships there fierce and visceral. At 5 p.m. each day, I filed into a conference room with the other young engineers for “Capybara Abs” time. We rolled around on the carpet, doing crunches and planks. It smelled like sweat and old socks, and it felt like home.
For all the perks, the job took a toll. After I reported sexual harassment, I was unable to sleep soundly for weeks on end. My lower-back pain became so severe that I couldn’t sit down at my desk—I had to code standing up, for hours at a time. I showed up at the on-site health clinic and broke down crying. The nurse practitioner prescribed muscle relaxants and tramadol, an opioid painkiller, and urged me to quit. Before I did, I bawled like a child on my sofa every night for weeks, saying, “I don’t want to go.” My next role, at Facebook, had similar drawbacks but few of the upsides. (In addition to back problems, I started getting crushing migraines.)
When I gave my notice at Facebook in 2021, indefinitely leaving tech, I had every reason to celebrate: I’d recently sold a book and had the financial resources to write full-time, a childhood fantasy. Before long my pain disappeared, further vindicating my decision to depart my grueling job.
I didn’t realize it yet, but I was part of the Great Resignation. In 2021, a record 48 million Americans left their jobs, followed by more than 51 million Americans in 2022. The news coverage was triumphant, featuring headlines and subheadings such as “Everyone Is Quitting Their Job. Great!,” while “QuitTok” videos portrayed even more elation—one featured a Taco Bell worker who cannonballed into a sink to celebrate his last shift before becoming a full-time video-game streamer.
My experience turned out to be less straightforwardly positive. Passion for my new endeavors didn’t erase the loss I felt about my old prestigious job. Once I got over the initial exhaustion, I ached for what I’d abandoned: my deep bond with my manager, whom I viewed almost as a parent; the promotion ladder that, for years, gave shape to my future; my self-image as a hard-core woman engineer making it in a male-dominated field. Dead set on moving forward, I threw myself into new ventures until I felt the twinge in my spine return. My old health issues had come back to haunt me.
Libby Vincent, a Scottish woman based in London, also had confusing feelings after departing an intense job. She spent her 20s running nightclubs, then climbed her way up the ladder at Just Eat Takeaway, a global tech conglomerate that owns food-delivery services such as Grubhub. Burned out by the pandemic, she quit in 2021, one month before her 40th birthday. But free from the constraints of her role, she found that relaxing was harder, not easier. “Everything I did, I felt it wasn’t the thing I should be doing,” she told me. She struggled to read. During yoga, she daydreamed about her old responsibilities. Seeing her company grow without her was excruciating. “It’s like seeing an ex do really well.”
The expectation to feel happy and calm once freed from the corporate albatross weighed on Vincent. At Christmas, three different people gave her copies of Glennon Doyle’s self-help book, Untamed. “They advised me to ‘stop trying to live up to other people’s expectations’”—an unwanted judgment.
Derek Thompson: What quitters understand about the job market
Wellness and self-discovery turned into expensive, exhausting work. Eventually Vincent realized that she hadn’t failed at finding balance. Instead, harried is her preferred state. “I don’t want to be outside the corporate machine. I don’t want to be teaching yoga,” she said. Vincent launched a consultancy that assists women executives transitioning into new positions. She works more now than she did in tech, but is happier than she was in her old job or while unemployed. Vincent expected self-care to be the answer, but instead she found satisfaction in a more fulfilling, equally challenging career.
Khalid Abdulqaadir had a profound relationship with his profession after nearly 20 years serving the U.S., including time in the military. He took pride in the prestige and selectiveness of his post at the National Security Agency. “I was at the tip of the spear,” Abdulqaadir told me, “on the forefront of America’s security with the most sophisticated technology and capabilities in the world.”
But the pressure also weighed on him. It was hard to take vacations or even lunch breaks, because he had to be doing “what your countrymen expect you to do.” With a top-secret security clearance, Abdulqaadir was constantly on edge: Even in the grocery-store checkout line, if strangers made small talk, he wondered if they were trying to extract classified information from him. “That takes it from being a job to being a lifestyle. It affects your family too.”
These stresses wore on Abdulqaadir until he eventually quit in 2020, eager to begin a new chapter in his professional life. He and his family moved from Washington, D.C., to Kansas City, Missouri, where they crammed into his aunt’s house. Pursuing his dream of starting a film-production company seemed like a welcome reprieve—the last few years of his service to the federal government had been under President Donald Trump and had overlapped with the coronavirus pandemic and the unrest following the killing of George Floyd.
But after saying goodbye, Abdulqaadir felt loss every time he turned on the news. “I was a player and now I’m out of the game. I see what’s going on all over the world. I used to be able to look at that and think ‘I’mma go in and do something about that tomorrow.’”
Eventually Abdulqaadir’s wife found full-time employment, and he and a business partner landed their first clients. When he struggled with the transition, it was magnified by the fact that the people around him assumed he was doing fine. He said that many people see him solely “as a resilient individual,” incapable of experiencing the strain of a crucial job, the loss of walking away from it, or the uncertainty that comes with starting a business. “They think I’m not having a nervous breakdown when I am. That I’m not terrified by my future, watching my kids sleep at night.”
Abdulqaadir is grateful that increased awareness of mental health—particularly through conversations led by Black men—gave him the courage to prioritize his well-being and make the change. He still struggles with knowing he’s “on the sideline” of global politics but, now that he’s immersed in entrepreneurship, has no regrets. “When you quit the job, you’re obviously going to miss everything you loved about it,” he said. “Being able to find something else you love in the same way is key.”
Just before the pandemic, Hadassah Mativetsky was promoted to management at a hardware manufacturer in rural New York. A year later, in 2021, her daughter’s day care told Mativetsky to find another placement. Nearby facilities had lengthy waiting lists. “This isn’t the city. Nannies are not a thing here,” she told me. She found babysitters on Care.com and trained them, only to have one college student after another flake at the last minute. After several months of this, Mativetsky, newly pregnant with her second child, felt forced to resign to stay home with her kids. She’s not alone: According to a 2021 survey by the consulting firm Seramount, about a third of working moms quit or scaled back their jobs—or planned to do so—during the pandemic.
Read: What you find when you leave your job
When I asked Mativetsky if she grieves for her old work, she seemed to fight back tears. “When it’s nice out, I still go eat outside with my old co-workers.” Despite interesting freelance assignments, she misses her colleagues and the thrill of fixing crises. “When you’re in quality assurance, everything is critical, critical, critical,” she said. “You complain about it, but you love it.”
A recent survey showed that 80 percent of Great Resignation quitters regret their decision. Though many people left for better work-life balance and mental health, only about half of respondents were satisfied with these things in their new roles. Meanwhile, employees long for their former cubicle buddies, mentors, and company cultures—which suggests that our office mates offered far more support and stability than triumphant QuitToks let on.
Giving up the office and the jobs that kept us tethered to it represents the loss of an institution that constrained us but also provided community and meaning. Moving on means reevaluating our relationship with work—a far more arduous task than anyone warned.
Today, I log many more hours than I did at Google for an order of magnitude less money. Everything I adore about my new career pushes me to go harder, but it still has the same consequences. I write this at 10:23 p.m., exhausted, desperate to stretch out my seizing back. Leaving tech didn’t fix my old habits. They’re right there waiting for me.
And yet I feel clarity, realizing how ingrained effort is to my identity and values. Even if it’s cringey, I love who I am when I’m focused, when I put my all into a goal. Childlike devotion blankets my body. Even in my solitary pursuits, I feel like I’m connected to something bigger: part of a long line of humans who have toiled and strived, cheered in glee, and wanted to smash our laptops. Maybe this is all an illusion, but it’s the one I know as well as my own face. More than any company, it feels like home.
Google did not respond to questions about the author's experiences working at the company.
Is it normal to feel regret leaving a job? ›
It's Normal To Feel Badly About Exiting a Role
If you feel badly about quitting your job, whether you've been in the role for a year or a decade, this is a perfectly normal feeling.
Although it is considered proper etiquette to give two weeks' notice if you plan on leaving a job, sometimes a situation arises where you need to quit without notice. It's important to think carefully about making such a serious decision and behave professionally when you leave.Are you a failure if you quit your job? ›
Just because you quit something doesn't mean you've failed.
Whether it's a short-term quit or a long-term quit, it's time to take control. It's time for you to take the necessary steps to get yourself out of situations that aren't bringing you value.
If you like what you do most of the time – and know you're good at it – stay put. Your resume will look worse for quitting. Leaving a job before you've been there for an entire year almost always looks bad on your resume. Great resumes also don't show several years spent bouncing from job to job.What's the #1 reason someone leaves quits their job? ›
According to the Pew study, 57% of Americans quit their jobs in 2021 because they felt disrespected at work. And 35% of those surveyed highlighted this as a major reason for quitting.
80% of workers who quit in the 'great resignation' have regrets, according to a new survey. The “Great Regret” is the latest workplace trend to sweep the nation, with the majority of professionals who quit their jobs last year wishing they could get a do-over, according to a new survey.How long until it's acceptable to quit a job? ›
As such, a good rule of thumb is to stay at your job for a year or two. During that time, you've likely completed any probationary period and reached full productivity. This shows hiring managers that you can onboarded essential skills and performed the job with reasonable success.At what point should I just quit my job? ›
It may be time to quit your job when you're no longer motivated to complete your daily tasks, feel overworked or burnt out, or want to move beyond your current position into a more advanced one. These are a few signs that it may be time to quit your job and get a better one that more effectively meets your needs.Can I quit on the spot? ›
Under normal circumstances, it's best to give the standard notice—but there may be no legal reason why you can't quit on the spot.How do bosses feel when you quit? ›
Leaving a job can be an emotional experience for you and your boss. When you tell your supervisor you're quitting, you are essentially stating that you are firing him as your boss. He may feel shocked, angry, or defensive. He may have to answer to a superior about why you decided to leave.
Can I just quit a job and not go back? ›
your resignation can't be taken back, unless your contract allows it, or your employer agrees. you will get your final pay on your normal pay day unless your contract says differently - you do not have the right to ask for it any earlier.Can you come back after quitting a job? ›
You can go back to a job that you quit or was asked to leave from. Are you clueless about how you will ask your ex-employer for your job back or for a new role? You are not alone. Most professionals hesitate to do so and thus let potential opportunities pass by.Why am I so scared to leave my job? ›
Concerns About Leaving
For most people, change and the unknown are scary concepts, which may make them stay in that comfortable job. When someone is thinking, “I want to leave my job but I'm scared,” the prospect of a different and unpredictable future is often a significant source of that fear.
You're bored all the time
U.S. News says that if you already know everything your coworkers will do before they do it, then it's time to go. Although boredom is a very standard feeling, prolonged feelings of boredom while at work could lead to psychological and physical issues, such as anxiety and depression.
Key Takeaways. The term “quiet quitting” refers to employees who put no more effort into their jobs than absolutely necessary. A 2022 Gallup survey suggested that at least half of the U.S. workforce consists of quiet quitters. 1.Why do valued employees quit? ›
Some of the managerial behaviors that can cause good employees to leave are: The managers are generally hard to reach, meaning their employees feel exposed. They leave the managing to others, meaning they aren't adding as much value as they could be because they aren't as present.What are the top 3 reasons for quitting a job? ›
- A New Job. The best reason for quitting a job is that you've found a new one. ...
- Illness or Family Issues. ...
- A Bad Boss. ...
- Difficult Work Environment. ...
- Schedules and Hours. ...
- Going Back to School.
- Thank them. ...
- Stay calm. ...
- Review your legal obligations as an employer. ...
- Conduct an exit interview. ...
- Find a way to fill the gap. ...
- Promote from within. ...
- Develop an effective job description before external hiring. ...
- Use an external hiring company.
Although job hopping is beneficial for candidates in many ways, don't forget why some employers may have a bad taste for this term. To this end, it's helpful to have some sort of steady work history on your resume. Be careful about changing careers instead of just positions.What is the Great Resignation stress? ›
Work-related stress has taken a toll on the average American employee. Many employees have fallen victim to “The Great Resignation” as a result. The Great Resignation is a movement, essentially, that is driven by employees leaving jobs at increased rates.
What is deep regret? ›
a feeling of sadness about something sad or wrong or about a mistake that you have made, and a wish that it could have been different ...How do you know if a new job is not right for you? ›
- Values Do Not Align. ...
- You Have No Idea How Your Role Impacts the Company. ...
- Your Daily Activities Do Not Match the Job Description. ...
- You Feel Negative About Work. ...
- You Have Lost Your Passion. ...
- You Are Uncomfortable Speaking Up. ...
- You Are Not Getting Along with Coworkers or Management.
Yes, it is OK to quit a job after three months. If you have a change in circumstances or the job isn't a good fit for you, it's okay to quit after just a few months. Just don't make it a habit, and make sure you leave gracefully and courteously.Does it look bad to quit a job after 2 months? ›
It's not terrible form to leave one job after a few months; just don't make such short stints a habit—red flags arise if this behavior seems to be chronic. Repeated job-hopping can convey an inability to assess a company or role, demonstrate a lack of focus, or raise concern around what led to your departures.What are red flags to quit your job? ›
Frantic emails off-hours, unnecessary follow-ups, micromanagement, unrealistic deadlines and expectations, complete disregard of work/life balance—and, in this case, utter disregard for unique personal needs—are major red flags that can compound over time and lead employees to quit.Is it bad to quit a job 2 weeks in? ›
If you know you want to quit, without question, then it's often best to stick it out for two weeks when possible. However, there are instances where remaining for two weeks, or even one week, might not be in your best interest and, in some instances, could cause more harm than good to your well-being.What not to do when quitting a job? ›
- Don't Burn Bridges. No matter how sure you are that you're never going back to where you are working now, don't do anything you'll regret. ...
- Don't Lose Focus: ...
- Don't Miss Seeing That It's Time To Move On: ...
- Don't Quit Without Giving Notice. ...
- Don't Forget That You're a Professional.
- Keep quiet. Don't tell coworkers you plan to quit before you tell your boss.
- Quit in person. Don't quit by email or by phone. ...
- Give two weeks' notice. More is better. ...
- Write a letter of resignation. Turn it in after you quit in person.
- Tell Your Boss In-Person, Not Your Colleagues. ...
- Give at Least Two Weeks' Notice in Writing. ...
- Put in a Strong Two Weeks and Train Your Replacement if Possible. ...
- Express Gratitude and Ditch the Baggage. ...
- Be Helpful After You Leave Your Job.
If you quit a job without notice, do you still get paid? According to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, or FLSA, your employer must pay your wages for hours worked and may not withhold your wages under any condition.
Do companies get mad when you quit? ›
Depending on their emotional state at the time of your conversation, your manager may become immediately upset, or even furious that you are resigning. They may feel a sense of betrayal, as well as anxiety about how they will manage the workload without you.Why do I feel guilty after quitting? ›
Feeling guilty about leaving a job is a totally normal reaction. It shows how much you care about the people impacted by your decisions, and how much you're invested. That's a strong reflection of your values.Is it embarrassing to go back to a job you quit? ›
It's not just a matter of convenience — they want to hire you. It's not just flattering that an old employer wants you back. It can be a sign of how much they truly value you, and that's worth its weight at any company, new or old.Can I just quit my job and walk out? ›
Can you quit your job without notice? We all know that giving two weeks' notice about leaving a job is customary — but do you have to give two weeks' notice before quitting? The short answer is no — there's no law preventing you from walking out today.Should I quit my job to deal with anxiety? ›
Will quitting your job help your anxiety? Maybe. If you work in a high-stress job and have a lot of anxiety, there's no doubt that taking some time off or changing to a less stressful career will help your anxiety.Is it normal to dread going to your job? ›
Is It Normal To Dread Working? Yes, it's completely normal to dread going to work. If you wake up and can't bear the thought of working, take a mental health day. If the feeling lasts for days, weeks, or even months, that may be a sign that it's time to look for a new job.Should I quit my job if I'm overwhelmed? ›
If your job is causing you so much stress that it's starting to affect your health, then it may be time to consider quitting or perhaps even asking for fewer responsibilities. You may need to take a simple break from work if stress is impacting you from outside your job.Do I tell HR or my boss I'm quitting? ›
While no two employers are exactly the same, in most cases you'll provide a resignation letter to your boss, then work with HR to finish out your time at the company.How do employers feel about quiet quitting? ›
As “quiet quitters” defend their choice to take a step back from work, company executives and workplace experts argue that although doing less might feel good in the short-term, it could harm your career—and your company—in the long run.Can you get fired for quiet quitting? ›
But can employers fire employees for quiet quitting? Generally, yes, if they are “at-will" employees.
Does it look worse to quit or be fired? ›
It's theoretically better for your reputation if you resign because it makes it look like the decision was yours and not your company's. However, if you leave voluntarily, you may not be entitled to the type of unemployment compensation you might be able to receive if you were fired.How bad does it look to quit a job without another lined up? ›
If you quit without another job lined up, it will make interviewing uncomfortable. The human resources professional, hiring manager and other interviewees involved with the hiring process will ask, “Why did you leave your last company?” It sounds like an innocuous query, but there are severe implications.Is it better to quit or put in two weeks? ›
Two Week Notice Etiquette
Giving two weeks' notice to your employer before leaving your job is a professional courtesy that is not required in most cases. Many employees provide notice because it provides time for employers to adjust staff workloads or hire new personnel.
It's possible that a job candidate's previous employers will reveal if he or she was fired from their previous job and the reason for the dismissal. However, in most cases, don't expect to receive this information.Is it better to quit than laid off? ›
Is it better to quit or be laid off? Unless you have significant savings or another job lined up, being laid off may be preferable to quitting your job. You're likely to qualify for unemployment benefits, for which you would be ineligible if you quit.Do I have to disclose why I quit my job? ›
It's normal for people to ask, but there are many occasions when you'd rather not tell. The most important thing to remember is that it's always OK not to tell people where you're headed. It's your business, and you can keep it to yourself for any reason you like.Will quitting a job affect future employment? ›
You'll get blacklisted by your ex-employer Even if you were a model employee for all or most of your time on the job, when you resign effective immediately you stand to lose a key professional reference and jeopardize your chances of getting work in the future. Referrals are the No. 1 way to get hired today.