“Quits is a sign of optimism.”

I was listening to the economist Beth Stevenson describe her current interpretation of the economy and labor markets in light of reallocations and the unemployment numbers. I’d never heard the employee’s experience described in such a concise way.

If you are optimistic about your future job prospects — your likelihood of being hired — you don’t have to settle for your current situation. You are operating from a place of security and confidence. You have choices. With these choices comes power; employers now have to compete to attract and retain talent. Stevenson was arguing that people were taking more time to find the right fit or perhaps just stepping out of the labor market for a brief hiatus, a much needed break after all of the stress of the last year.

I’ve been through this calculation before, to stay or quit. I’ve done both and seen the consequences either way. I’ve always seen quitting as a desperate last measure, when the situation was unbearable, untenable, and unsustainable. It is the last lever when all hope of turning the job around has been spent. To see it as otherwise, is to flip the coin exactly over. According to Stevenson, to quit is to believe that there is something else better out there for you, not in the abstract “there’s a better tomorrow coming,” but in the here and now. You have the power to decide what kind of relationship you will have with your work and the right to walk away if you choose.

How can we craft experiences for employees informed by, even respectful of, the tension in that fundamental question, to stay or go? To be free to make another choice or to commit to the place you are? Or, as I like to think about it, to commit to changing the place you are, to putting in the work to advocate for others, to tell your story, to dig in to find your voice, and to build something real, here and now, where you are. Staying is sign of optimism too.

Writer, researcher, observer