More than a quarter of Oregonians have quit a job in the past two years, a new survey from the Oregon Values and Beliefs Center found.
Among Oregonians who quit their jobs, the most common reason why was that they felt disrespected at work.
Some Oregonians said the pandemic pushed issues with their employers — or with work, as it exists in the country — under a spotlight.
"It's a corporate entity, they don't really care about any of their employees beyond their productive ability, what they can produce for the company. I'm not a fool, I know that's just how it is," said Chase, an Oregonian in his 30s who did not want his last name printed by Pamplin Media Group.
But, Chase said, he deluded himself into thinking "that if I worked hard and showed my value, the people… above me would notice and compensate me or reward me — or at least praise me — and certainly that delusion was punctured quite a bit" by the pandemic. Chase's job supports manufacturing for industries that were heavily impacted by the pandemic, so his company responded with layoffs, furloughs and increased workloads for the remaining staff, he said.
Shannon Richardson quit her job with the state after 11 years and moved to the nonprofit sector during the pandemic.
"It was like this period of upheaval was also a little bit of a reckoning," Richardson said. "I think we're all a little bit afraid to disrupt our daily lives, and then suddenly, our lives are disrupted for us and we see the possibility in that."
Richardson lives in Linn County with her partner and two children.
When the pandemic hit, Richardson felt her workplace didn't adequately respond to the need for increased flexibility, which "disproportionately impacted working parents and particularly working mothers."
When school closed for Richardson's children "that support system of the education system — and all of the social benefits that are packed into our public education system — were suddenly absent."
"Recognizing a misalignment of values is one thing, and then having it become like a very real part of your everyday professional life is kind of next level," Richardson said. "All of a sudden, these low-level value misalignments or dissatisfactions are very present and very immediate."
Though she wanted more flexibility in logistics and expectations from her employer, Richardson "still thought that it was a change that I could help achieve within my workplace." But when her current position opened up, "I decided to just take the leap."
"In hindsight, it was past time," Richardson said.
The quit rate for Oregonians was at or above 3% for seven straight months in late 2021 and early 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Pre-pandemic, the monthly quit rate had only reached 3% or higher a handful of times since at least 2001, and never for more than two consecutive months.
Chase said he is looking at other jobs, but his specialized role means there are limited job options available without relocating to a new city. But for now, he's no longer willing to put in the hours of unpaid overtime that were required earlier in the pandemic.
"I'm going to do my job competently and well, because of my own self respect. But I'm not going to go above and beyond," he said.
In the survey, 33% of Oregonians said that they at least partially agreed that the reason employers have had difficulty filling jobs is because since the COVID lockdowns, "people have gotten used to not working and are continuing to live off savings and unemployment benefits and are not feeling a sense of urgency to work."
Unemployment benefits were expanded during the height of the pandemic, but have since shrunk back. Laid-off workers, who pay into unemployment insurance through payroll, can receive roughly 65% of their weekly wages when unemployed. A person working 40 hours a week at minimum wage could receive around $350 per week if laid off. The additional weekly payments approved by the federal government — initially $600 and then $300 — ended in September 2021.
People receiving unemployment benefits typically have to demonstrate that they are searching for employment. The work search requirement was suspended during the height of the pandemic, but reinstated more than a year ago.
One in five Oregon workers switched to remote or hybrid work during the pandemic.
Workers who make $100,000 or more were three times more likely than workers making less than $50,000 to have the flexibility to work from home or go into the office, the survey found.
One in four workers making less than $50,000 had to go on unemployment at some point during the past two years. Just one in ten workers making $100,000 or more went on unemployment.
Still, 38% of working Oregonians said that nothing had changed in their employment in the past two years.
Sienna Fitzpatrick was halfway through a yearlong AmeriCorps program in central Oregon when the pandemic hit. Despite the pandemic, Fitzpatrick was hired on as a full-time employee in September 2020.
Fitzpatrick's organization went to remote work during the pandemic and only returned back to the office this spring.
"We had a lot of really long and sometimes kind of tense discussions as a department," about the return to the office, Fitzpatrick said, which resulted in a hybrid schedule that has had increased flexibility when needed, like for a coworker struggling to find consistent childcare.
In the survey, 44% of Oregonians said the option to work from home would determine whether they would accept a job.
"Part of the experience we all had was seeing our employers try to react and make decisions and come up with policies," regarding both public health concerns and racial equity, Fitzpatrick said.
While they enjoy the work they do and the organization they work for, Fitzpatrick said they still see issues within their workplace. But their employer's response to issues that emerged in the pandemic — while not always perfect in everyone's view — showed they were receptive to employee's concerns.
"If I were to go to another organization that wasn't interested in hearing that kind of feedback or wasn't willing to have those kinds of hard conversations with their employees, that would definitely inform me as to how happy I would be with that group. I've definitely raised my standards for the kind of organization that I'm willing to work for," Fitzpatrick said.
Oregon Values & Beliefs Center methodology
The survey was conducted online among Oregonians 18 and older from professionally maintained online panels. The polling group said its surveys are within the statistically valid margin of error.
The nonprofit is building a large research panel of Oregonians to ensure that all voices are represented in discussions of public policy in a valid and statistically reliable way.
Selected panelists earn points for their participation, which can be redeemed for cash or donated to a charity. To learn more, visit oregonvbc.org/about-the-panel/.
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