The No. 1 reason people quit jobs during the Great Resignation, according to MIT research — and it's not pay

"This doesn't surprise me at all," career coach says.


A record 24 million Americans quit their job between April and September of 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It may surprise you to learn that wanting to earn more money was not the main driver of the record turnover.

"Toxic culture is the biggest factor pushing employees out the door during the Great Resignation," according to an analysis published in the MIT Sloan Management Review. It's "10 times more important than compensation."

Researchers at MIT Sloan analyzed 34 million online employee profiles to identify U.S. workers who left their job for any reason, "including quitting, retiring, or being laid off," between April and September 2021.

By looking into employee reviews, they found that the most common ways employees described toxic culture at their company was "failure to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion; workers feeling disrespected; and unethical behavior."

"This doesn't surprise me at all," says Lauren Baptiste, founder and chief empowerment officer at Acheloa Wellness, a career and life coaching firm. "The issues that come to me are the manipulative boss, the intense working hours, or the never-ending cycle of deadlines."

Here are three signs your workplace is toxic and steps you can take to address the situation, according to career experts.

1. Your employer makes promises but doesn't deliver

One sign of a toxic work environment is when you've been told something will happen "but the company fails to meet those promises or expectations," says Brie Reynolds, career services manager at FlexJobs and Remote.co.

This disconnect can show up in a few ways, says Reynolds. It "could be monetary, but may also be about raises or promotions, equipment or tools to do your job, data or information you need to be effective, or even tasks or projects you'd like to work on."

If you're left hanging at work, "communicate your needs to your team as often as needed," says Baptiste. Make sure to document your requests in writing, and maintain a professional attitude. "No one else will support you if you don't advocate for yourself," she says.

2. People at work treat each other with disrespect

Hostility and a lack of respect are common in toxic workplaces, Baptiste says. Signs of hostility include: "criticizing and blaming others, throwing others under the bus, or creating an overly competitive environment," Baptiste says.

When your workplace has "no regard for individual personnel needs," she says, that can also be a sign of disrespect.

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In these situations, "company communication norms make it difficult to express your real views, opinions, or ideas on work-related subjects for fear of rejection, retaliation, or gas lighting, and being ignored," says Reynolds.

If you've exhausted all options and "you think the problem is widespread, or there isn't a safe place to discuss it, focus on what you can control," says Reynolds. Meaning, "your own work, the people you interact with, and prioritizing your own wellness, all while you plan to find a new opportunity with a less toxic company or organization."

3. Work policies aren't fair or predictable

Another common sign of toxic workplace environments that has come up during the pandemic is that policies are enforced haphazardly rather than clearly, consistently, and predictably, says Reynolds. For example, "when only certain teams or people are allowed to work remotely or make a flexible schedule for themselves, rather than a clear policy that lays out who is eligible for what, and instructions for how they can receive it," she says.

Speaking up about the unfair nature of office policies and not being heard is exhausting, especially over time. "Ultimately it's not up to any individual to fix a broken company culture, so if it would be more harmful and stressful to you and wouldn't necessarily do any good, you need to prioritize your own wellbeing," Reynolds says.

Putting up with a toxic work environment can lead people to "their breaking point," says Baptiste. "I can't tell you how many times I've heard from individuals saying they would easily take a 20-30% decrease in their annual compensation if they knew they could have 'normal working hours' and less stress."

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