These People Who Quit Jobs During the Pandemic Say They Have Regrets

Millions of people switched jobs during the pandemic. Some of them are feeling the job-market equivalent of buyer’s remorse.

Michael Kaye,

a New York-based public relations director says that seeing professional contacts announce new positions or companies “really gave me the itch.” He felt good about his job at the dating company OkCupid, but last summer started looking around and soon found a new role with a raise at LinkedIn.

Mr. Kaye resolved to stay at least a year. As the months passed, though, he missed running his own department and the direct impact he’d had as a member of OkCupid’s much smaller staff.

“The grass isn’t always greener on the other side,” said Mr. Kaye, 30, who returned to OkCupid earlier this month in an expanded role after eight months at LinkedIn.


Michael Kaye

The monthly quit rate, a government measure of worker resignations, reached 2.9% in February, though those statistics don’t track how long workers stay in a role or whether they have resigned to take another job. Recruiters who work with white-collar workers say many who jumped to new positions during the past year’s rush of job-changing have found that the roles are a poor fit, or the frustrations of their previous jobs exist in the new ones too. 

A large number of workers have returned to previous employers: So-called boomerangs accounted for 4.5% of all new hires among companies on LinkedIn in 2021, according to the professional networking site, up from 3.9% in 2019.

Partly driving the regret, recruiters say, is that people’s expectations of potential employers have rarely been higher: Candidates are requesting flexibility in their jobs, the highest possible salaries and quick decisions from companies. To be sure, workers have long wanted all three things, but rarely asked for them during a recruiting process. 

“You can’t have the high pay, the psychologically safe team, the all-star manager, the company that’s going to grow at the pace you want it to grow—you can’t get all those things,” said

Sean Page,

a recruiter for a fintech startup in New York. 

In a tight market, some recruiters may be distorting the nature of jobs or overpromising how autonomous hires will be. Nearly three-quarters of workers who quit to take a new job said they felt surprise or regret, according to a survey of 2,500 U.S. adults conducted earlier this year by The Muse, a job-search and career-coaching company. Nearly half of those workers said they would try to get their old job back. More than 40% said they’d give their current employers two to six more months before switching again.  

“Employers can no longer count on all the people they’re hiring today giving them at least two years,” said The Muse’s founder,

Kathryn Minshew.

Workers tired of having their lives on hold in the pandemic have been hungry for change of any kind. “Some people left their jobs because it was a move that made them feel more powerful in the short run,” said

Amy Cuddy,

a social psychologist and Harvard lecturer.

Plus, as Mr. Kaye observed, watching scores of contacts and friends be courted by companies (and trumpeting new jobs) can prompt a bout of job-shopping even for those who aren’t unhappy at work, said

Laura Mazzullo,

a New York-based recruiter in the HR field.


Faith Del Regno

“There’s almost a candy-shop mind-set of, ‘Oh that looks good, I want to go there,’” she said.

Ms. Mazzullo encourages candidates she is recruiting to write down the attributes of their favorite boss, what they feel is missing in their career, when they are most engaged at work and what kind of company environment makes them happiest. If an opportunity comes along, she says, people need a clear set of criteria against which to evaluate it. For instance, she says, if somebody understands why they thrived while working at a corporate law firm, they are less likely to be distracted by an offer from a place where they would be a bad fit. 

Faith Del Regno

managed call centers for more than two decades, staying in jobs between four and 10 years at a time. In 2020, the number of people she supervised at her Azusa, Calif., call center tripled to 30, but her pay stayed the same. She resigned last June in search of a more manageable role, then cycled through three jobs in 11 months. She says in one case the role described in interviews and the actual job amounted to a bait and switch.

Ms. Del Regno quit one job on the spot when she says she was treated unprofessionally in front of her direct reports. 


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“It was uncomfortable,” she says. “I also didn’t want to compromise myself anymore. I knew there were other companies and other positions out there, and I just had to continue to push on to find it.” 


Zach Peters

Ms. Del Regno now works as a quality assurance lead at Bambee, an HR tech company, a role that she said allows her to use her experience training employees in a collaborative environment and, crucially, has proven to be as-described during the interview process. 

As an in-house recruiter for creative positions,

Zach Peters

had seen the opportunities and pitfalls of rapid-fire job-changing up close. That didn’t mean he was immune to the messages filling his inbox from companies hoping to woo him away from his job at GSD&M, an advertising agency based in Austin, Texas. 

He jumped to another agency in January, swayed by a promotion and expanded responsibilities. GSD&M tried to keep him, he said, but with the clock ticking on another offer there wasn’t time to fully explore what might happen if he stayed. His new role turned out to be more solitary than he had expected and lacked hoped-for face time with executives. He returned to GSD&M less than three months later, where managers laid out a detailed new plan for his professional growth while at the company.

“Direction and career path and timeline and next steps were a larger part of the discussion,” said Mr. Peters, who is 36. “I think the longevity of my time here is going to be substantial.”

The American workforce is rapidly changing. In August, 4.3 million workers quit their jobs, part of what many are calling “the Great Resignation.” Here’s a look into where the workers are going and why. Photo illustration: Liz Ornitz/WSJ

Write to Kathryn Dill at [email protected]

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