Sustainable life

Unsustainable workplaces: why do employees quit? A millennial newbie’s perspective

I think each and every one of us has considered resigning and moving to the other side of the world to sell cocktails by a luxurious beach at least once in our life. And some have even done that. Recently though, quite too many people have considered selling cocktails on luxurious beaches, and guess what? Most shared the same opinion about the reason why they think so: they realised they can’t bear toxic working dynamics anymore.

Although I’ve only got something like a four-year experience, I’ve seen how different professional environments operate. I’ve talked to and shared opinions with peers and older employees about our experiences. And I’ve experienced burnout myself, because I used to be imbued with a toxic vision of what a successful career should look like.

Therefore, when the pandemic hit and a surprising amount of people started to put their life into question, I was like “Oh, eventually!”. I wasn’t that surprised after all. I knew it was just a matter of time. I mean, progress is progress, even when it comes to such ideas and perspectives.

This is why I’d like to give you my two cents about this whole post-pandemic resignation thing. It might be the perspective of an extravagant Italian millennial or whatever, but I do think it’ll resonate with many readers out there.

A bit of background: what is the Great Resignation?

Apparently, the pandemic has made most of us recover from rat-race intoxication. The boomerang we threw many years ago finally came back to us and was not at all gentle. It hit us fiercely indeed. Ouch! Yes, I know you can feel how much it hurts.

While in lockdown, we stopped and rediscovered our time, ourselves, the other people surrounding us, the other people who could no longer surround us.

We understood something had been wrong and that we could not allow such masochism anymore.

Not surprisingly, since early 2021 many people have decided to voluntarily resign from their jobs. Quite en mass, actually, which is why it’s called Great Resignation. It’s mostly a US trend, but it’s slowly gaining momentum in Europe, too. Most people have started looking for another job, others are simply waiting for a better opportunity or choosing to start their own business. What is common is the need to change and improve their life.

Why are people quitting?

So… Why are people leaving their jobs?

Personally, after experiencing burnout myself and talking to other people who’ve already decided to go another path, I’ve made myself an opinion.

First of all, I’ve realised that it’s a generational change such as those that sociologically occur every now and then to disrupt certainties and revolutionise the stinky status quo we tend to pride ourselves with.

It has always happened and it will always happen. And we must be able to deal with it. To deal with change.

The most complicated thing for us humans.

What millennials and gen Zs (as well as some older people, though they keep it mostly a secret because they fear judgement) are looking for is balance and purpose.

Balance means there shouldn’t be any burnout. Oh, yeah, burnout. Let’s light up this skeleton in the closet first.

What is burnout? It happens when you’re in a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. You end up feeling overwhelmed, tired, emotionally drained and depressed.

You feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated. You may experience a sense of failure, self-doubt, loss of motivation, no sense of accomplishment or satisfaction. You aren’t able to properly care about your life and other people close to you as it seems like a total waste of energy.

You take out your frustration on others, procrastinate, and isolate yourself from others. Also, your physical health suffers as well as a consequence of lowered immunity.

Well, it doesn’t sound that nice, does it?

Would you consider this to be normal just because someone once told you that if you don’t wear yourself out working 80 hours out of 40 every week then you’re lazy?

I know many people think this is normal.

And that’s precisely the reason why many other people are leaving.

I mean, you wouldn’t drive your car without fuel, right? You could try, but it’ll soon leave you abandoned somewhere in the middle of nothing.

Many of us have fortunately started to understand that in order to live a better life and preserve our health, four work-related things are fundamental: flexibility and work-life balance, protecting our mental health, nurturing our purpose and satisfaction.

What is work-life balance in a workplace?

A professional life without a work-life balance leads to exhaustion.

This is a fact. Don’t trust anybody who claims otherwise. They might just be dangerously intoxicated.

Work-life balance in a workplace generally describes a condition in which employees can split their time between work and other important activities and aspects of their life.

In theory, gone are the days when working was the only thing a person would do. Practice, however, is slightly different.

As a matter of fact, thanks to technology, humans could cut down on the time they spend working and commuting, which would also significantly reduce unemployment levels as there might be more space to employ other people.

Progress notwithstanding, it can be observed that uneven distribution of resources, absurdly high taxation and too many other factors make this virtually unrealistic, at least for the time being.

Inside this chaotic system, striking a balance between our life and our job becomes fundamental to survive. Indeed, such balance reduces stress and improves our output and productivity.

Fortunately, the whole pandemic situation has made us reflect upon this issue and what originally looked like futuristic policies, are now more frequently implemented by many organisations.

However, it’s still not enough, as many people/managers keep creating a correspondence between their life and their work, as if they had no identity beyond that.

Okay, many are fine with this and don’t suffer because can somehow manage everything, and again, that’s okay. However, we can’t expect this to be applicable to anyone.

This is why it’s utterly important to speak up and normalise the need for work-life balance. The more we talk about it, the more it is accepted and promoted.

Working environments’ Cinderellas: mental health, recognition, purpose

Besides work-life balance, there are three other significant millennial extravagances that most people overlook. First, mental health. Repeat after me: my mental health is as important as my physical health.

Some dynamics – both job-related and interpersonal – may lead people to experience a high level of stress and discomfort that may negatively impact their mental and physical health. Anxiety, depression, panic attacks, eating disorders are but a few.

We need to remember that every person has their own perspective and we all experience things differently.

A workplace that doesn’t safeguard mental health is dangerous for every single individual working there, and thus for the existence of the workplace itself, too.  This is why protecting our mental health should be normalised and prioritised. There’s still so much stigma around it and I wouldn’t be surprised if anyone handed in their resignation because of this.

Second, recognition. Probably the first reason why someone leaves their position and guess why? When employees feel valued, they’re more engaged and motivated. If that doesn’t occur and both your work-life balance and mental health are under attack, then why stay? Nevertheless, many companies and organisations still completely fail at employee recognition.

Also, the lack of balance, recognition and mental health protection has an impact on purpose. As I’ve already written here, we all crave meaning in our job. We all want to make a difference and contribute to the greater good. This is basically our purpose, which fuels our motivation and creativity.

However, as much as people might find their activities suitable to their profile, without balance, care, and recognition they eventually realise they have no real reason to keep working in that environment. And again, they leave. And probably make space for more opportunities.

This yearning for new opportunities is fuelling the YOLO economy. YOLO stands for You Only Live Once and refers to a new approach leading people to leave their jobs for whatever reason and revolutionise their life. This usually includes starting a new business or finding a new job that more specifically aligns with their new aspirations and needs.


When faced with such trends, what could CEOs and managers do? Well, I think the best thing might be to understand the root causes of such a feeling of discomfort, preferably by putting themselves into question, and then act accordingly in an innovative way. Which is huge, I’m aware of that and I don’t want to minimize it.

But you know, such remarkable changes are here to stay.

It’s progress, baby.

Let’s adapt to it.

If there’s one thing we’re all learning from this, is that traditional work-related dynamics no longer work. If past generations saw their job only as a means to survive and pull themselves out of poverty, today it’s not just this. It’s also balance, flexibility, human connection, refusal of toxic environments, health preservation, and finding a way to fulfil ourselves as the complex human beings we are.

Yeah, it’s like we’ve discovered America: we’ve all realised that we need to work humanly, sustainably. Better late than never.


Sources and food for thought

Forbes, Viaggio nel fenomeno delle grandi dimissioni: le aziende ancora non capiscono perché le persone si licenziano, available at

Harvard Business Review, Who is driving the great resignation, available at

McKinsey, ‘Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours, available at

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