Ice cold drinks on a rooftop, highlighted cheekbones, chairs pushed aside for a makeshift dance floor: This is the kind of feeling that Beyoncé’s “Break My Soul” evokes — and how Beyoncé has re-stoked the flames of the Great Resignation.
Within 24 hours of the song’s release, the search query “how to resign” jumped by 350% and "great resignation" skyrocketed by 1,550% in the U.S., according to Workmajig, a project management software company. Bey sets the scene: “Now I just fell in love / And 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.” In this vignette alone, she touches on some phenomena that HR professionals are intimately familiar with.
Quarantining eroded many people’s sense of time and — especially for those who could work remotely — their boundaries between personal and professional life. As early as April 2020, researchers clocked this work-life imbalance, and unconventional, flexible scheduling remains a grappling point for managers in 2022. Beyond longer hours on the clock, the collective trauma of COVID-19 exposure concerns, isolation, child care challenges, family deaths and long COVID-19 did a number on people’s mental health.
A June 2022 report by the Society for Human Resource Management reconfirmed that employee well-being and caregiving are increasingly top of mind for HR professionals amid the pandemic. In 2022, 88% of respondents marked health-related benefits as “very important” or “extremely important.” Compare that to 75% of SHRM survey-takers in 2019. Forty-six percent of respondents marked wellness benefits as being very or extremely important this year, whereas only 36% of respondents said the same in 2019.
Even if employers introduce more healthcare frameworks, this doesn’t account for the more nuanced ways that workplaces lack psychological safety, especially for Black women and queer Black people — such as Beyoncé, Big Freedia and their core audiences.
The pivotal moment is the post-chorus, wherein the New Orleans bounce queen gives listeners their orders: “Release ya anger, release ya mind / Release ya job, release the time / Release ya trade, release the stress / Release the love, forget the rest.” Big Freedia and Beyoncé aren’t picking up on anything that the U.S. Department of Labor hasn’t noticed. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, quits and separations have spawned at record rate within the agency’s 20-some years of calculating job openings and labor turnover.
“Break My Soul” discourse is, as Indeed economist Nick Bunker quipped: “Truly #JOLTS's time in the spotlight.”
A quick vogue through Twitter indicates that, as to be expected, Beyoncé’s impact is tangible and immediate — and if nothing else, has made workers at the precipice of quitting their jobs feel less alone.
Beyonce released Break My Soul the day after I quit my job … my Queen is always on time wit it— dev should be writing (@devbeswick) June 22, 2022
i quit my job the day break my soul came out ???? will be telling the grandchildren this story— fenie (@fenieist) June 22, 2022
Beyoncé releasing Break My Soul a few days after I quit my job feels like destiny. The queen just approved my decision— Tyrell (@TheoriesByT) June 21, 2022
“Beyoncé kind of codified the feelings or perspectives people have on their relationship to work in a song. I thought that was pretty powerful,” Nicole Cardoza, racial justice educator, artist and founder of Anti-Racism Daily, told HR Dive. “I think it's exciting to see — with the Great Resignation and unionization efforts that are happening — how quickly people are stepping into a place to be a bit more demanding in work expectations.”
Amy Spurling, CEO and founder of benefits company Compt, understood instantly why the track hit harder than the baseball bat Bey wielded in “Hold Up.” First, she told HR Dive, her reaction was to hit repeat.
“Obviously, right?” she said. But then she realized, “It was a reflection of what I see people feeling every single day. It didn't feel like it was a revelation; it felt like it was much more of a reflection of the past two and a half years. People are finding there is more to life than getting jammed up on something really stupid.”
Spurling elaborated, pinpointing return-to-work mandates as the aforementioned “something stupid.” Commuting is more expensive and in-office lunch is costly, she explained. There’s the logistical struggle of child care, plus increased risk of COVID-19 exposure. Acknowledging that in-person work is a necessity for certain roles, Spurling said it makes “no sense” to force people back to an office — particularly if they’re happy working remotely and are more productive at home. “It was a reflection of a general sentiment that has been building and it's now obviously made it all the way into a Beyoncé song.”
Cardoza told HR Dive that “Break My Soul” answers a key question for people: “How do we reclaim our right to feel joy and liberation in the face of oppressive systems and structures?”
The racial equity advocate also explained that the song’s rebellion isn’t just in the lyrics, but in the beats as well: Beyoncé adopted the instrumentation of house music, a subset of dance music originated in Black and Latinx gay spaces in 1970s Chicago. Named for the famed club The Warehouse, the genre is a nod to an era where, despite police raids, queer bars and clubs were the main safe spaces for the LGBTQ community.
“I think there's definitely a fun summer song in there,” Cardoza said. “But when you think about the history of Pride Month and how it is rooted in protests — and how there have been so many effective labor movements lately — I wouldn't necessarily take it lightly, either.”
Increased chatter about the Great Resignation probably doesn’t sit well for employers and their HR teams. What talent professionals need to understand, Cardoza explained, is that it’s “a people centric movement. Beyoncé is not singing about how companies should, you know, increase their DEI efforts. It's really trying to put agency back into people's hands. When we think about the shifts, the transformations happening in the workplace right now, it is people-oriented.”
From her perspective, increased interest in diversity, inclusion and belonging was the direct result of people protesting — and of millions quitting their jobs. “They're done working in systems that don't work for them anymore,” she said.
In the pre-chorus, Beyoncé croons, “I'm lookin' for motivation / I'm lookin' for a new foundation / And I'm on that new vibration / I'm buildin' my own foundation.” The HR industry has come to realize that Gen Z in particular are on the frontlines of building the “new foundation” of which Beyoncé sings: better compensation, increased professional development opportunities, unwavering commitments to DEI and a vested interest in climate justice. Rallying against the status quo will continue to be the norm, Cardoza said.
‘Break My Soul’ is so relevant to my life right now. Bey hit right home for me. ???????????? Quit my job, found something better, more money, closer to home, vibrating HIGHER! Trusted God and he delivered, AGAIN! “Motivation, found me a new foundation..” ????????????— Vonne ???? (@vonnesworld) June 22, 2022
I already wanted to leave but Break My Soul definitely confirmed it’s time for me to quit my job ????— Nae. (@naewiththeslay) June 21, 2022
So where does Beyoncé and Big Freedia’s danceable anti-work anthem leave HR professionals? Well, putting the “human” back in “human resources,” it seems.
“‘You won't break my soul.’ It's not about the defense of the workplace or the defense of your pocketbooks. It’s for the defense of your being and your soul — that's the transformational stuff. Be empowered to make that change at your company — if you are the DEI lead, if you are the head of an ERG group, even if you aren't and have been working there for two weeks,” Cardoza said. “That's what inspires me most about the movement that we're in right now, is that people are getting agitated and they're getting activated. So think of yourself as that change-maker.”