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‘Overworked, No Additional Pay & Overwhelmed’: Black Workers Share Why They Joined the ‘Great Resignation’ Movement

Millions of resignations are hitting businesses and companies across the nation amid the pandemic as workers are rethinking how they will earn a living, and Black workers may stand to gain the most at a time when diversity efforts soar among companies.

“People are reassessing, Black people, other minorities and women are assessing, is this the right fit for me, can I do better somewhere else,” said Black in HR magazine writer Joanne Courtney.

Courtney says at the height of the pandemic when much of the workforce either lost jobs, were furloughed or transitioned to remote work, they weighed the pros and cons of their jobs and everything surrounding the work experience.

“I don’t want to sit in traffic an hour each way every day, I do want to spend time with my family or doing things I enjoy doing,” Courtney said of contributing factors to increased resignations.

While all sectors of the job market are feeling the effects of people quitting, the latest report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics points to the food and service industry, wholesale trade and education industries for seeing the most people quitting.

“A lot of those workers were service workers or essential workers, so they are just burnt out, they were either burned out or were laid off during COVID and they had to make a way and the other group I’m seeing is women,” said Courtney.

Among the workers who felt burnt out was Akeem Williams, 27, who worked in the retail and hospitality industry before working for an autism therapy firm during the pandemic.

The Minneapolis man says once his employer started calling employees back into the office he was excited to get back to work, but he soon realized things had changed since the pandemic began.

“Initially, I was very excited to go back, honored that they picked me, but then I started realizing I was doing multiple jobs while still getting the same amount of pay” said Williams, who later described his return to work as “very overwhelming.” Williams eventually landed another job where he would be better compensated adequately for his work.

John Finley, of Tallahassee, Florida, spent nearly a decade working as a photojournalist for local television stations and decided to try his luck in the pandemic job market despite feeling trepidatious early in his job search.

“I had been looking for a while and when the pandemic hit it scared me, because I was like, ‘Aw, man, people are about to cut back, nobody is going to hire,’” he said.

The 31-year-old says the racial reckoning that followed the murder of George Floyd was a pivotal moment for him and fueled his job search. As companies across the country started reassessing their treatment of Black employees, his employer at the time also followed the trend.

“Oh, let’s have meetings with this person and this person so we can learn how to be racially sensitive and understand what people are going through,” Finley said.

Meanwhile, he felt other more direct means to addressing racial issues within the workplace would have been more impactful. “I’m like, why not just talk to your employees, talk to us like we’re people,” he said.

Finley eventually found a new job with an abundance of Black managers making day-to-day decisions. “I wanted to be in an atmosphere with people who looked like me, thought like me, and we had the same perspective and same experiences,” he said.

Courtney says people are finding new jobs for a variety of reasons, and for many Black employees, they are seeking a better work-life balance with fewer racially motivated slights and microaggressions on the job from co-workers and their bosses.

She also believes now that companies are investing more in diversity, equity, and inclusion programs, they are finding more value in their Black employees.

“I’ve heard of companies specifically having weekly meetings to talk about their Black employees, where before those conversations weren’t happening and those conversations are happening now to finally develop Black employees and give them opportunities,” she said.

In August alone, 4.4 million people quit their jobs. The unemployment rate among African-Americans saw the biggest drop from August to September when compared to other racial groups.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports in September 2021, African-American unemployment rate dropped from 8.8 percent to 7.9 percent. Asian unemployment dropped from 4.6 percent to 4.2 percent, white unemployment dropped from 4.5 percent to 4.2 percent, and Hispanic unemployment rate dropped from 6.4 percent to 6.3 percent.

Williams has no regrets about joining the “Great Resignation” wave during the pandemic. He advises others who are on the fence about getting a new job, “if you’re already considering it then you’re not happy, so go ahead and take that leap of faith and just go for it,” he said.

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