Millions of Americans are quitting their jobs in a "Great Resignation," Abby Vesoulis reports for TIME—and it may be a sign that employers need to make changes to better attract and retain workers.
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According to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released last week, a record-breaking 4.3 million Americans across a variety of industries quit their jobs in August. That is highest number of quits since the agency began tracking such data in 2000, Vesoulis reports.
The food service, retail, and health care industries were among the hardest hit. In particular, 534,000 U.S. workers in health care or social assistance positions resigned or quit their jobs in August, according to BLS data.
Only a small fraction of resignations appear to be attributable to vaccine mandates, Vesoulis reports. For example, around 99% of the 33,000 employees at the Henry Ford Health System in Michigan complied with the system's vaccine mandate.
Rather, economists say the wave of resignations is driven by a range of factors, including low-wage jobs without opportunities for career growth, rising costs of child care, increasing responsibility and grueling work conditions amid Covid-19 surges, and fatigue from the pandemic.
"[Employees] don't want to return to backbreaking or boring, low-wage … jobs," said Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor under President Bill Clinton. "Workers are burned out. They're fed up. They're fried. In the wake of so much hardship, and illness and death during the past year, they're not going to take it anymore."
According to Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics, workers now have an opportunity to exert pressure on their employers. "We are now seeing a labor market that is tight and prospects are becoming increasingly clear that it's going to remain tight," he said. "It's now going to be a workers' market, and they're empowered. I think they are starting to flex their collective muscle."
Separately, Nick Bunker, economic research director for North America at the Indeed Hiring Lab, agreed with Zandi's assessment, saying that workers now have more bargaining power than before.
"If you look at the ratio of unemployed workers, job openings, or just even just the quit rate itself, that does suggest that there's more power for workers in the form of exiting," he said. "If they don't like the situation they're in now, they can leave."
In fact, 35-year-old Amy Minas did just that, leaving her job as a medical lab assistant to be a science tutor at a local community college, Vesoulis writes. Minas said she had already felt overwhelmed and overworked at the hospital where she worked due to limited senior staff and insufficient training, but the pandemic made things even worse.
"It was very difficult to know you were doing such an important job with basically no training and not feeling your employer appreciated your concerns," Minas said. "With Covid, it just made it that much worse, because of staffing issues and having to do all these Covid tests."
Anthony Klotz, an associate professor of management at Texas A&M University, said the trend of employees quitting may benefit workers in the long term. For example, companies may increase wages and benefits and offer more flexibility to attract and retain in-person workers.
"There's all this talk about people wanting more flexibility post-pandemic," Klotz said. "There's an opportunity here for organizations to get together with workers who have to be in person and say, 'Within the constraints of our business, let's obviously raise wages and benefits, but let's also think about flexibility more innovatively.'" (Vesoulis, TIME, 10/13)
By Kate Vonderhaar Johnson, Managing Director
To slow down this massive turnover rate, health care employers must address the underlying structural challenges contributing to it, as my colleagues have written about particularly for the nursing workforce. For managers, this stark data has a practical immediate implication: assume many of your staff members are contemplating resignation. Instead of waiting for them to hand in their resignation notice, have a proactive conversation to understand what's kept team members at your organization so far and what they might be considering as a next move.
This type of conversation (typically called a "stay interview") is a useful retention tool even in the best of times, and it is especially important now as staff see so many of their colleagues leaving their organization and the industry. Despite the usefulness of stay interviews, our past research has shown many leaders don't have them due to four common concerns.
As staff see so many colleagues leaving, it's entirely rational for them to consider whether they should leave, too. By naming the possibility directly, you invite an open, candid discussion about what might be drawing them to other options (which, in turn, helps you understand what you might be able to do to retain them).
This concern is especially salient given all that has transpired across the last 18 months, not to mention the gigantic signing bonuses widely available to candidates. However, it's still worth trying. Your team member hasn't left yet, despite plenty of other options. Why have they stayed? Once you understand what's most important to them about their current job, you can do what you can to ensure those features stay firmly in place.
It can feel awkward to ask a staff member about their future plans. Consider highlighting the national situation as a natural starting point for the discussion. For example, "A lot of people are re-thinking their jobs right now after all we've experienced across the last 18 months. I really value all you contribute to our team, and I want to better understand what I can do to ensure this is a place where you'd like to keep building your career."
You don't have to schedule a stay interview as a separate lengthy check-in. Set aside time during a regularly scheduled touchpoint to explicitly discuss retention. If you have a large number of direct reports, prioritize having stay interviews with top performers and staff whose resignations would be particularly hard to absorb.
The most effective stay interviews are two-way conversations. Your goal is to understand what your team member values most about their current role and what might cause them to leave. You can use some or all of the questions below to help guide the discussion:
There are many ways to have the discussion with your employees. The key is starting it—having a candid conversation with staff can help you understand how you might retain them. It’s also a form of recognition, because you’re taking the time to individually acknowledge how important your team member’s contributions are.
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