A “Great Midlife Crisis”? What’s Driving Older, More Experienced Workers to Switch Jobs

an illustration of people leaving and entering an office


Plus, why there’s a rise in “unretirement.”

In the early days of the pandemic, it was younger workers who were quitting en masse. Now, older Americans are the ones leaving their jobs. Here’s a closer look at this new phase of the Great Resignation some are calling the “great midlife crisis.”

Who’s calling it quits?

Young workers and those employed in the service industry were quitting in record numbers last year. (Some 4.5 million left their jobs in November 2021 — the most in two decades.) But industry experts have noticed a shift. Between the first quarter of 2021 and 2022, the most growth in resignations came from people 40 to 60 years old, Vox reports. And the ones most likely to quit were in higher-paid fields like finance and tech, per data from two HR analytics companies. 

What’s behind the trend?

The pandemic appears to have jolted some of these workers to reconsider what they really want out of their professional lives, Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinksy told Vox, triggering a “great midlife crisis.”

“At the midpoint of life, we become aware of our own mortality, and it allows us to reflect on what really matters to us,” he said. The pandemic has only amplified this. 

Some of these high earners are quitting in order to find better work-life balance. (Many of them say they resigned instead of returning to the office.) And some are shifting gears to pursue more fulfilling work. They’re also quitting because there are still a good deal of jobs out there for them to fill. The trend has even hit the C-suite, with some high-level execs walking off the job as they reassess the role of work in their lives, the New York Times reports

What about the “unretirees”?

More and more Americans are taking a cue from Tom Brady and are deciding to “unretire.” The pandemic drove a spike in early retirement. Some low-income Americans were displaced by the Covid-19 crisis, others chose to leave the workforce because of the increased health risks, and some saw an opportunity as surging home values created a windfall for property owners. 

But with a recession on the horizon, many have taken a U-turn, having been lured back by employers offering better pay and more flexibility. According to Axios, 2.8% of workers who said they were retired in January 2021 had returned to work by January 2022.