The Great Resignation’s Big Regret

Why do one quarter of people who quit their jobs now say they rue the decision? And how should leaders respond? 


Sondra Levitt

Associate Principle, Executive Career & Leadership Coach

In November 2021 the finance executive got a job offer she thought she couldn’t refuse. A 35% salary bump. A six-figure sign-on bonus. A fancy new title. She joined the more than 4 million Americans who quit jobs that month and switched over to a new employer. 

Not even a year later she’s looking for another job—or even a return to her old place. The new company’s finances were a mess. She was getting no support from her boss. Most of all, she missed the tenacity and skills of her old colleagues.  

It turns out that a big percentage of people who quit during the Great Resignation could be ruing their decision. Twenty-six percent of workers who quit regret their decision, according to a recent survey of more than 15,000 job seekers by the online job-search platform Joblist. The major reasons, other than not finding a job they wanted quickly, were that new job has not lived up to their expectations or they now feel that their old position was better than they originally thought. Other recent polls suggest the regret level could be even higher.

While there is some debate about how accurately these surveys reflects the entire population of US workers who have quit during the Great Resignation, experts say there certainly is more than a fair share of regret going around—and it’s occurring up and down the corporate ladder. “Some people quit their jobs very quickly and regretted that the experience wasn’t what they’d hoped it’d be,” says Sondra Levitt, an Associate Principle, Executive Career & Leadership Coach at Korn Ferry Advance.

During the Great Resignation, which started around the beginning of 2021, people re-evaluated their career priorities, and millions left their jobs to pursue roles that were more personally purposeful. Job openings were so ubiquitous in so many fields that millions of workers could quit their jobs without having a new one lined up and not really worry about being unemployed for long.  

There was also a lot of money sloshing around. Companies, desperately short of workers, were increasing salaries at faster levels than they had in decades, with pay bumps of 30% or more not uncommon. Even now, as the number of job openings decrease, there are still many roles in which companies find themselves critically short on staff, influencing them to dole out big signing bonuses or higher-than-anticipated wages. 

All that money, say experts, may actually be the cause of some of the regret. People might have jumped jobs they were satisfied with solely for offers of a lot more money or, to a lesser extent, schedule flexibility. Now, some of those people are finding that those two benefits have not been worth the switch.  

Feeling regret doesn’t have to be destructive, Levitt says, if people use it as a chance to evaluate their careers, learn about themselves, and strategically determine where they want to go next. People also can modify their job-searching approach to lower the chances that their next move will end up in regret. Candidates have to determine what exactly they are going to be expected to do in their new role. “Ask what success looks like. And get clarity on what business problem you are coming in to solve,” says Seth Steinberg, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and member of the firm’s Supply Chain Center of Expertise.

At the same time, candidates should try to suss out who are the critical stakeholders they will be working with and determine how well they will be accepted. Consider reaching out to other new hires and ask about their experiences, Steinberg says. Ann Vogl, a Korn Ferry senior client partner in the firm’s Marketing Officers practice says candidates, particularly ones for leadership positions, also should find out whether the new firm has earmarked resources for the projects they’ll be working on. “Make sure it’s been committed and not just blue sky and a wisp of clouds,” she says. 

There also might be a chance for the regretful candidates to return to their old organizations. “There’s tremendous value in celebrating people who have come back,” says Jill Wiltfong, chief marketing officer at Korn Ferry. So-called boomerang employees consistently received stronger performance evaluations than other new hires, according to a recent study by Cornell University, in part because they knew the company’s unwritten rules and how best to win over colleagues.