Project Management

Job Seekers Survey Reveals the Hidden Motivations Behind the Great Resignation

7 Dec 2021
Brantlee Underhill
We’ve all heard of the Great Resignation—the trend of workers quitting their jobs during the pandemic to search for new job opportunities. But what’s behind this trend? What’s on the mind of workers who have decided to resign from their current positions in pursuit of greener employment pastures? Our latest survey sheds light on this fascinating phenomenon.

Image by Marten Newhall on Unsplash


It’s happening across industries and geographies, from the American South to Germany to China. It’s the Great Resignation—the collective decision of millions of people to leave their jobs during the global pandemic to seek new employment opportunities, often in pursuit of a higher salary, but just as frequently to strike a better balance between their personal and professional lives. 

In October, PMI set out to explore this phenomenon in the United States—to probe job seekers' motivations and understand what they’re looking for in a new position. We surveyed 1,000 U.S. office workers and 250 service industry workers who searched for an office job within the last six months. What we found has implications for both employers and job seekers alike. Both, in fact, can “win” in this highly competitive job market if they focus on the real motivating factors behind this trend. 

Here are more detailed findings from the survey: 

For Employers: Hiring Hacks & Retention Recommendations 

Organizations can thrive in this new marketplace, recruit top talent, and hold on to their high performers if they take to heart some of the lessons learned during the pandemic. That means promoting better work-life integration by offering flexible working arrangements, showcasing opportunities for skills development and career growth, and thinking beyond salary to a broader range of benefits, including job stability. It’s also important to show off those “power skills.” These capabilities have often been called soft skills, but are too important in today’s work environment to be relegated to “soft.” These are people-centered capabilities like communication, empathy, an innovative mindset, and collaborative leadership. Employees want to work for companies that exhibit honesty, integrity, transparency, diversity and inclusion, and creativity. 

For Job Seekers: Stand Out & Get Hired 

Even though prospective employees currently enjoy a favorable job market, it can also be a competitive one, and they still need to market themselves to land the right job. That can involve expanding skillsets by investing in training and education, zeroing in on companies that align with their values, and being flexible and creative during the interview and negotiation process. Employees also need to make sure their resumes capture their actual technical acumen, communication skills, and problem-solving capabilities. 

For Service Industry Workers: Invest in New Skills & Highlight the Ones You Have 

In addition to office workers, PMI also surveyed workers whose current or most recent job was in the food service, hospitality, and transportation industries and who recently searched for an office job. Service workers, of course, have been hit hard during the pandemic. They are more likely to feel overworked than office workers (68% vs. 59%), which contributes to their desire for a new job. They’re also more likely to expect recruiters and HR professionals to empathize with what they’re dealing with outside of the hiring process (83% vs. 74%). 

Because of the pandemic, service industry workers now place greater importance on workplace flexibility, work-life integration, and flexible hours. They certainly want better salaries (their primary motivation in seeking a new job), but they’re also looking for better benefits and the opportunity to learn new skills. 

And they’re willing to work hard. In preparation for their job search, nearly two-thirds of service workers (64%) invested in personal skills development through educational opportunities, compared to 55% of office workers. What’s more, the majority have found their service industry skills to be transferrable to the office jobs they’ve pursued, and they highlight flexibility, problem-solving, and communication skills on their resumes. 

The pandemic has caused many of us to reflect on how fulfilled and secure we feel in our jobs. Millions of people have decided it’s time for a change, and they’re willing to invest in learning the new skills required to switch careers. By understanding what truly matters to job seekers, both organizations and employees can benefit from this period of great upheaval and change. 

Those looking to change careers during the Great Resignation may find PMI’s Career Navigator to be a helpful resource. Job seekers can start by taking a free self-assessment that identifies their experience, skills and goals. Based on the results, Career Navigator provides a customized action plan and tracks career development progress over time. 

Brantlee Underhill Brantlee Underhill