Some teachers are quitting their jobs for more lucrative careers.

Janelle Schuurman, an elementary school teacher in Michigan for 11 years, has left her post to join Costco, one of the world's largest retail brands, citing unfair pay and mediocre benefits. In her own words, "I dreamt of being a teacher since the time I was in kindergarten. I remember thinking, 'I'll just stay here until I'm old enough to be the teacher.'"

Despite her passion for teaching, she reached her breaking point in 2022, citing extreme burnout from teaching elementary students and sought a new path. Reflecting on her decision, Schuurman emphasised that teachers must be supported and paid reasonably to stay in the classroom.

Her story is similar to what many people in the workforce are experiencing, not just in education. Here, we highlight the top reasons why people leave stable jobs and how companies can address these concerns to retain their employees:

The Unending Workload

Schuurman's workload was one of the most significant challenges as a teacher. Contrary to the perception that teachers have a cushy schedule, the reality is that the job never truly ends. Schuurman typically spent 10 to 12 hours a day at school and often did an additional 20 hours of work per week outside of her contracted hours to stay on top of her responsibilities.

The constant preparation, grading, and administrative tasks left her feeling burned out and unable to recharge even during the summer breaks. This intense workload is why many teachers and professionals in other fields consider changing careers.

Possible Solutions: To mitigate burnout, companies should implement policies that promote work-life balance. This can include setting clear boundaries for work hours, ensuring that employees are not expected to work outside their contracted hours, and providing adequate support for managing workloads. Encouraging regular breaks and vacations and offering mental health resources can help employees recharge and maintain productivity.

Lack of Support and Resources

Schuurman also noted that the work environment for teachers has deteriorated over the years. With increasing class sizes and decreasing support staff, teachers are often left to manage large groups of students who need adequate assistance. Schuurman had 29 students in one class without any support staff, which is far from the ideal class size of 20 to 22 students, especially in elementary schools.

This lack of support is partly due to decreased funding for public schools, making it difficult for teachers to provide the quality education they aspire to deliver. Feeling unsupported in their roles, many professionals seek jobs where they feel valued and adequately resourced.

Possible Solutions: Employers should ensure employees have the necessary resources and support to perform their jobs effectively. This could involve hiring additional staff, providing access to professional development opportunities, and fostering a collaborative work environment. Adequate funding and resources are essential for maintaining job satisfaction and preventing burnout.

Concerns About Safety

The rising number of school shootings has added another layer of stress and fear for teachers. Schuurman recalled feeling terrified after the Uvalde shooting and constantly worried about her safety and the safety of her students.

The need for heightened security measures, like having walkie-talkies for emergencies, underscored the gravity of the risks teachers face. The increasing threat to personal safety is a critical factor driving teachers and other workers in high-stress environments to seek safer employment opportunities.

Possible Solutions: Companies should prioritise the safety and well-being of their employees by implementing comprehensive safety measures and protocols. Regular safety training, emergency preparedness drills, and a robust support system for dealing with traumatic events can help employees feel more secure. Additionally, fostering a culture of openness where employees can voice their safety concerns can lead to proactive solutions and increased trust in the workplace.

Compensation and Valuation

Despite the societal narrative that teachers should 'focus on the outcome versus the income,' Schuurman highlighted the importance of fair compensation. Teachers must make a living wage to sustain themselves and their families, like all professionals.

The guilt-tripping that comes with the notion of working for passion rather than pay often leaves teachers struggling financially. Schuurman mentioned that while she could pay her bills, many of her colleagues left the profession because they couldn't afford to live on a teacher's salary.

"Society tells teachers: You're making a difference! It doesn't matter that you can barely make ends meet! This is your passion! The kids need you! If you only care about the money, you shouldn't have been a teacher in the first place! Could you do it for the kids? But the reality is teachers are people, too. We should be able to make a living doing the work we want to do, but so many of us aren't," she said.

Possible Solutions: Employers should conduct regular salary reviews to ensure that compensation is competitive and reflects the cost of living. Comprehensive benefits packages, including health insurance, retirement plans, and performance bonuses, can enhance job satisfaction. Recognising and rewarding employees' hard work through raises, promotions, and other incentives can demonstrate that their contributions are valued.

External Pressures

Teachers also face significant external pressures from parents, politicians, and society. These pressures, often rooted in a lack of understanding of the educational system, can be overwhelming and exhausting. This constant backseat driving made an already challenging job even more stressful.

Professionals in various fields often leave their jobs when they feel undermined by external forces that prevent them from using their expertise effectively. This underscores the importance of a supportive work environment that values and respects the expertise of its employees.

Possible Solutions: Companies should empower their employees to make decisions based on their expertise and knowledge to address external pressures. Providing a clear framework for handling external feedback and ensuring that employees have the autonomy to do their jobs without undue interference can improve job satisfaction. Additionally, fostering a supportive management team that stands by its employees can help mitigate the impact of external pressures.

Why Employees Leave Stable Jobs

Looking at Schuurman's experience, it is easy to relate her reasons for quitting with other jobs and understand why it is essential for companies to create a supportive and fulfilling work environment.

High turnover rates can indicate low job satisfaction and increase costs for hiring and training new employees. Here are other common reasons why people leave their jobs and how companies can address these issues:

Feeling Unvalued

A critical issue that drives employees to seek employment elsewhere is feeling unvalued. Employees want to feel that their work is essential and makes a difference. This issue is particularly prevalent in entry-level positions where employees might have fewer responsibilities and feel less impactful. The lack of recognition and appreciation can significantly impact job satisfaction and retention.

Management Relationships

A supportive and understanding management team is crucial. Poor relationships with supervisors or managers can lead to dissatisfaction and prompt employees to seek new opportunities. Employees need to feel that their managers respect and support them.

Career Growth

Employees seek opportunities for advancement and continued learning. Employees may feel stagnant and unfulfilled when career progression or professional development opportunities are lacking.

Feedback and Structure

Employees consistently feel they need to be more confident about how their managers view their progress and effort, a common reason for dissatisfaction. With regular feedback, employees may understand their performance and areas for improvement.

Work Environment

A workplace's physical and cultural environment significantly impacts employee satisfaction. An uncomfortable or unwelcoming work environment can lead to decreased productivity and morale.

Policy Conflicts

Rigid workplace policies, such as inflexible scheduling or inadequate paid time off, can conflict with employees' personal needs and lead to dissatisfaction.

Model Companies: The Case of Costco

Now for the good side—some companies foster an environment of positivity and growth, encouraging people like Schuurman to leave their previous profession for another career—in this case, Costco.

But why this company?

Renowned for its employee-centric policies, Costco offers substantial compensation and benefits to its workforce. As of June 3, 2024, the average hourly wage for a Costco employee in the United States is $22.20.

However, this is just a general average, with wages ranging from $9.38 to $50.48 per hour. This wide range in pay signifies the numerous opportunities for advancement and higher earnings, influenced by skill level, location, and years of experience, making Costco an attractive prospect for potential job applicants. Here are the perks:

Financial Benefits

Costco offers a comprehensive benefits package that includes several financial incentives:

  • Matching 401(k) Contribution: Costco matches a portion of employee contributions to their 401(k) retirement plans, promoting long-term financial security.
  • Gym Membership Discount: Employees receive discounts on gym memberships, encouraging them to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Health and Wellness Benefits

The company also prioritises the health and wellness of its employees through various benefits:

  • On-Site Fitness Centre: Many Costco locations feature on-site fitness centres, making it convenient for employees to stay active.
  • Medical Insurance: Comprehensive medical insurance plans ensure employees and their families access necessary healthcare.
  • Dental Insurance: Employees benefit from dental insurance, covering routine check-ups and significant dental procedures.
  • Vision Insurance: Vision insurance is provided, covering eye exams, glasses, and contact lenses.
  • Extra Mental Health Benefit: Recognising the importance of mental health, Costco offers additional mental health benefits, supporting employees' psychological well-being.

Workplace Benefits

Beyond financial and health-related perks, Costco provides several workplace benefits like:

  • Work Opportunities Outside the U.S.: For those interested in international work, Costco offers opportunities to work abroad, broadening employees' professional and cultural experiences.

Employee Feedback

Unsurprisingly, Costco employees are very vocal about their appreciation for working with the company, never shy of praising them for competitive wages, comprehensive benefits, and supportive work environment.

The opportunity for advancement and investment in employee wellness are often highlighted as key factors contributing to job satisfaction. Employees appreciate the sense of job security and the potential for career growth within the company.

The availability of various benefits, including health and retirement plans, is frequently mentioned as a significant advantage. Additionally, Costco's inclusive and supportive workplace culture is highly valued by its employees, and it encourages others like Schuurman to apply.

Janelle Schuurman's decision to leave teaching for a job at Costco highlights the need for systemic changes to support and retain professionals across various fields. By addressing why employees leave, companies can create a more supportive, fulfilling, and stable work environment that benefits employees and employers.