Donald W. Reynolds National Center For Business Journalism

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Employees would rather quit than break their soul

July 12, 2022

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Asterio Tecson, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Once you’ve heard it, it’s hard to forget the newest song released by Grammy Award Winner Beyoncé about alienation – and eventual redemption – from soul-crushing menial jobs. Whether it’s the rhythmic music or the repetitive words and beats, the song sticks in your head and could be well on its way to becoming an anthem.

Fortune Magazine, CNBC, Huffington Post and individuals in the Twitterverse believe the song mirrors America’s job market during the pandemic when millions followed the belief that life is too short to be unsatisfied at work. Their resignations and vocational moves speak volumes about today’s workplace. The lyrics of the song coincide with people’s thoughts.

Workers are striving for more

The lyrics are “… I just quit my job. I’m gonna find new drive. Damn they work me so damn hard. Work by nine. Then off past five. And they work my nerves. That’s why I cannot sleep at night.”

But there’s also a hopeful element to the song, that a solution is out there: “If you don’t seek it, you won’t see it. That we all know. If you don’t think it, you won’t be it. That love ain’t yours. Tryna fake it never makes it. That we all know. You can have the stress and not take less.”

Those words coupled with the mantra of “You won’t break my soul” that is heard over and over again represent an outlook of empowerment to Arizona State University Professor Neal Lester.

“For me, it is resistance from the things that aren’t bringing out the best in you,” said Lester, whose research focuses on cultural engagement and cultural studies. “You’re not just resigning from a job. You’re resigning from a situation that is unhealthy to you.”

Empowerment songs have been on the minds and lips of individuals for decades. Aretha Franklin sang about “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” Country trio The Chicks felt heated backlash after speaking out against the Iraq War. After that, the group created the Grammy-winning song where they told everyone they were “Not Ready to Make Nice.” Plus, there’s Katy Perry’s “Roar” and Sara Bareilles’s “Brave.”

Glamour Magazine released the top 53 empowerment songs for women last year. The songs by Perry, The Chicks, Franklin and Bareilles are all on the list. Beyoncé’s former group Destiny’s Child’s song “Survivor” was rated the No. 1 empowerment song. Plus, Beyoncé had three other songs on the list with: “Single Ladies,” “Grown Woman” and “Run the World (Girls).” In decades past, the focus of these songs was political repression or stifling social mores, now it’s the workplace.

Beyoncé’s newest single “Break My Soul,” released June 20, could be that latest song that attempts to peel back the layers of what people need right now. Pew Research Center studied people’s needs on the job. Much like the layers of an onion, the center’s research identifies the various layers and meanings behind the departures during the Great Resignation. The top three reasons for resigning were: low pay; lack of opportunities for advancement and feeling disrespected in the workplace.

In April 2022 alone, 4.4 million people resigned from their respective jobs. Those who quit their jobs during the pandemic say that they are happier with new jobs that they found, according to Pew Research Center. The center’s research found that people’s reasons for quitting their jobs rested largely with wanting more. They wanted more pay, more advancement, and more respect. The study goes on to say that people focused more on their personal needs. Regardless of whether that need was more hours, less hours, additional childcare issues or more flexibility on the job.

Or as former first lady Michelle Obama said via tweet, “Queen @Beyonce, you’ve done it again! ‘Break My Soul’ is the song we all need right now, and I can’t help but dance and sing along while listening to it. Can’t wait for the album!”

Lester echoed Obama’s sentiments by adding that the song is centered on community music: “This is not a tango. This is not a mambo. This is house music dancing. It’s about community. We are more empowered than we think we are.”

He offered newly sworn-in Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Ketanji Brown Jackson as an example.

“Brown Jackson was sworn in today,” he said. “She had to be able to find the joy in that process. Now, she’s a Supreme Court Justice. So, the end is greater than the process.”

Microsoft strives to help employees thrive

Like Obama, journalist Derrion Henderson also tweeted about Beyoncé’s song. He said, “This new Beyoncé track is very indicative of the times we’re in right now. Great resignation, finding true happiness, starting new business/career ventures, writing our own stories. It’ll resonate.”

The lyrics not only resonate with individuals in the United States through the Great Resignation. The labor market in London, according to Fortune Magazine, continues to be in turmoil. A day after Beyoncé’s song was released, 10,000 London workers went on strike in the United Kingdom for better pay and higher wages, which forced a million London commuters to work from home. Fortune’s article cited that major corporations have experienced an increase of union activity due to employees being dissatisfied with pay and benefits.

CNBC interviewed economist Nick Bunker at Indeed who said the Great Resignation has “seeped into the zeitgeist.” According to Entertainment, the song is the first of Beyoncé’s to rank in the top 10 of Billboard’s Hot 100 in six years.

Beyoncé’s song “is one instance of a broader public awareness or discussion about people quitting their jobs, which is reflective of what’s happening in the labor market and society,” Bunker said.

So many resignations occurred in the United States that people found more innovative ways to resign. In the latter part of 2021, employees began to resign via TikTok. The trend coined a new term in the public sphere called Quit-Tok with scores of individuals explaining on social media that they quit for mental health reasons or for more fulfillment.

Their reasons correspond with the labor market within the United States, which has shifted beyond offering paychecks and benefits to offering employees opportunities to “thrive.” A recent article in the Harvard Business Review explained that Microsoft measured employee engagement and found that employees “were struggling when we dived deeper into the responses.”

The company changed to focus more on deeper meanings beyond engagement. Microsoft Chief People Officer Kathleen Hogan said the company now breaks down fulfillment in a way similar to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Their version, however, is called “The 5 Ps” where employee fulfillment is broken down to pay, perks, people, pride, and purpose.

“This is the new core aspiration we have for our employees, one that challenges us to push ourselves every day so every employee can feel they’re pursuing that sense of purpose,” according to the Harvard Business Review article.

The company’s new steps to assist employees with the 5 Ps follows the direction of empowerment mentioned by Lester and Beyoncé.

Lester emphasizes his intention by saying, “No matter where you are, if it’s not satisfying for your soul and bringing you joy, you need to find something that does.”

“Break My Soul” offers similar advice: “I’ma let down my hair ‘cause I lost my mind; Bey is back and I’m sleepin’ real good at night.”

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