Low Job Satisfaction Leading to More Voluntary Exits

By Theresa Minton-Eversole Nov 5, 2013
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While hiring throughout the U.S. remains lackluster, the latest government data show that the number of Americans voluntarily leaving their employer is on the rise. This could suggest the job market is indeed improving along with job-seeker confidence.

“Quit levels offer important clues about the strength of the job market,” said John A. Challenger, chief executive officer of global outplacement and executive coaching consultancy Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., in an Oct. 31, 2013, press statement. “While the government survey does not break out the reasons for these voluntary departures, the rising number of individuals willing to walk away from a job suggests that more are being lured away by other employers or that they are confident enough in their job prospects that they can leave before securing a new position."

The latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey (JOLTS), released monthly by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reports that of the 4,376,000 separations recorded in August, approximately 2,364,000, or just over half (54 percent), were the result of individuals voluntarily quitting their job. That was up from 2,342,000 in July and nearly 11 percent higher than the 2,139,000 job quitters recorded in August 2012.

The JOLTS covers all private nonfarm establishments as well as federal, state and local government entities in the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Data are collected for total employment, job openings, hires, quits, layoffs and discharges, other separations, and total separations.

The number of workers who are quitting their job has been steadily rising since falling to a recession low of 1,601,000 in September 2009, according to BLS data. In 2011 an average of 1,941,000 Americans quit their job each month. By the end of 2012, the monthly average was up to about 2,100,000 people voluntarily leaving an employer. Through the first eight months of 2013, quit levels are averaging 2,247,000 per month.

“The current average remains significantly below the 2,935,000 quits per month averaged over the 24-month period leading up to the recession, but it is definitely trending in the upward direction,” said Challenger. “Meanwhile, the number of layoffs and other involuntary separations, such as being fired for cause, has been on the decline since mid-2010. While no one probably ever feels 100 percent secure in his or her job, these trends certainly indicate that Americans can feel more confident about their job security now versus two years ago.”

Find Out How Employees Feel

The rising quit levels are not only an indication of increased worker confidence; they also reflect the growing dissatisfaction that many Americans have in their employment situation.

In a 2010 survey of American workers by human resources consulting firm Mercer, about one in three (32 percent) said they wanted to leave and get a new job—a significant jump from the 23 percent who said this in a 2005 prerecession survey. A more recent Harris Interactive poll found that nearly three-fourths of respondents would “consider finding a new job.”

Employee dissatisfaction is not going completely unnoticed, and businesses are starting to examine their survey data from a causal perspective to determine what they can do to improve workers’ engagement.

A white paper titled The Evolution of Employee Opinion Surveys—The Voice of Employee as a Strategic Business Management Tool, published Oct. 2, 2013, by the Society for Human Resource Management and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, examines how employee surveys are evolving and how companies can use the results to make changes.

“The ability to convert data … into practical and impactful action is a critical area where most companies fall short,” wrote the paper’s authors, David L. Van Rooy and Ken Oehler. “While organizational leadership is still interested in gaining insight into their employees’ satisfaction, attitudes and commitment, the question of how to use information about employees’ level of engagement as a business indicator that drives positive action is now of primary concern.”

The authors wrote that employee surveys are becoming far more specific, measuring workers’ emotional energy and reactions to change and stress, as well as how they view workplace inclusiveness, labor relations and wellness. As a result, survey data specific to each worker could produce employee-engagement profiles to identify—or even predict—turnover trends.

Theresa Minton-Eversole is an online editor/manager for SHRM.​

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