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In the spring of 2022, as a surge in job departures was cresting in the United States (more than 40 million people left their jobs in 2021), the Special Projects team at The New York Times wanted to know how quitting had changed people’s lives. So, we asked our readers in an online questionnaire — and soon got our answer: Of the hundreds of responses, a majority of readers said that quitting had a positive effect on their well-being.
In August, we published three articles; each focused on a selection of those readers, and how quitting had affected their personal finances, work-life balance or relationships.
The series was a runaway hit. In the comments forum, hundreds of additional readers shared their stories, as well as what they believed the Great Resignation represented for the U.S. work force. “The larger story I see in this article is a society where the 40 hour a week grind just to survive isn’t good for us humans,” one reader wrote in a comment.
Others, however, criticized the series for overlooking or glossing over a few major factors involved in quitting — or in not being able to quit. One reader asked: “Where are the tales about those who made a terrible mistake and now regret leaving their jobs? Where are the people who no longer have health insurance and are going bankrupt?” Others noted that the first two articles in the series did not include any subjects who were balancing work with parenthood. And though we did report on people who had become burned out in their jobs, we didn’t address any specific fields in which burnout is perhaps most likely.
The criticisms were valid — and got us thinking. So we crafted a second solicitation, hoping to address some of those concerns. We got more specific, asking about burnout, particularly for teachers and nurses. We addressed parents, asking them how parenting affected their decision to quit and what additional challenges it posed if they did.
It’s not uncommon for the Special Projects team to solicit readers’ thoughts, in part to help us craft articles like these. We’ve found that our digital audience is highly engaged — many readers share comments on articles, for example — and others are happy to share their stories. It’s become a helpful supplement to more traditional reporting methods, and helps us include a wide variety of perspectives in our coverage.
The response to our second questionnaire was even more robust than it was the first time around. Nearly 1,000 readers wrote in, including dozens, if not hundreds, of teachers and nurses. Interestingly, though we are now approaching almost a year since the surge in quitting began, a majority of respondents were still extremely pleased with their decisions. One reader wrote in with a common sentiment — that quitting has been a game changer.
The newer solicitation, in turn, spawned a follow-up series, titled Calling It Quits. The first article, which was published on Monday, revisited some of the subjects from the first series. How are they doing now? Are they still happy with their decision to quit? (Spoiler: They generally are.)
But we’ll also focus on some of the themes we felt could use a deeper dive: Single parents. Teacher and nurse burnout. What happens when quitting isn’t a panacea? How should both employees and companies assess job satisfaction? Is performative quitting online — think TikTok and YouTube — satisfying? A handful of future articles in the series will continue to explore the ripple effects of quitting.
We hope that the new series will have the same resonance with readers that the first one did — and address some of their critiques.