- The US Labor Department is reporting a record number of job openings going unfilled.
- 33% of workers plan to leave their jobs if forced to return to the office full time.
- Companies are turning to new strategies to attract and retain workers.
The last year and a half have been hectic, to say the least. While the pandemic upended so many aspects of our daily lives, it had a particularly outsized effect on the workplace.
Many businesses implemented remote work for the first time ever. Others were forced to cut workers. And others had to find the balance between safety and bringing workers back to the office.
Now as businesses emerge from the pandemic, they’re faced with a challenge no one saw coming: people are quitting their jobs in record numbers.
The Labor Department’s Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey reports a record number of open positions. And companies are facing a high risk of job attrition. In a survey of HR executives by Conference Board, a research group, 49% of organizations find it difficult to retain workers in 2021.
It’s a head-spinning shift from just a year ago, when many workers were laid off or furloughed amid the economic uncertainty of the pandemic. In those bleak days, it seemed like everyone knew someone who lost their job.
Times are changing once again—and the risk of losing good employees is keeping executives up at night. But companies can’t fix their talent retention problem if they don’t understand the underlying factors that are driving this exodus. Here are some of the key reasons so many workers are saying “I quit.”
1. A new outlook on life
Last year was all about making trade-offs in the name of safety and security. On the work front, this meant “sheltering in their jobs” for many employees or overlooking on-the-job issues such as bad managers or undesirable job functions in return for a regular paycheck.
“People have started thinking about what they’ve been doing and whether they want to continue on in the same job or career for the next five to 25 years.”
But the existential nature of living through a deadly pandemic (coupled with people having a lot of time on their hands!) is a catalyst for reevaluation. As fears over health and safety ease up, many people are taking a closer look at their lives—and their livelihoods—to ensure their choices align with their greater needs. With so many open positions, it’s an applicant’s job market—and that’s making some question the point of staying at a job that doesn’t make them happy.
2. Change of address
For a significant number of workers, the interim shift to remote work was coupled with a more permanent change: relocation. Nearly three in 10 Americans said they considered moving during the pandemic, and there’s been a 20% increase in people planning to move this year compared to last year.
There are lots of things driving these changes of address: better cost of living, proximity to family, and improved quality of life. But relocation poses a challenge for jobs that are tied to a physical office, especially if a move makes commuting time consuming (if not impossible).
3. The desire for remote work
The need to work remotely during the pandemic showed many workers how life could be: the ability to throw in a load of laundry or make kids’ lunches during the day, greater flexibility to balance work and personal tasks, and so on. And a majority of workers have no interest in going back to the old grind.
But while many companies are planning for a remote or hybrid future, not all businesses are having it. Despite the changing tides, some organizations will require all employees to come back to the office full-time when it’s safe to do so.
“Not only are many people considering switching jobs if they have to go back to the office, but many have already done it.”
With one in three workers saying they will leave their job if forced to return to in-person work, companies that don’t offer remote work may have trouble retaining talent.
4. Higher pay
Many workers saw their pay frozen (along with cuts to bonuses and some benefits) during the pandemic. But salaries are yet another way the tides have turned. Labor shortages mean companies may need to pony up more to attract workers, and all categories of employees and types of businesses are projecting pay raises. This wage boom is even more pronounced at the blue-collar level.
Money talks—and where workers are concerned, the opportunity to make more of it is yet another factor that may lead to job change.
Maintaining a talented, productive workforce in a candidate’s market
The potential worker mass exodus has big implications for businesses. If not mitigated, high employee turnover can significantly impact productivity, company culture, and the bottom line due to the expense of hiring and training new employees.
But there are ways to stem this tide. Check out our posts “What your business needs to succeed in hybrid work” and “7 uncommon perks to give your remote and hybrid workers” to see how you can retain workers.
Originally published Aug 09, 2021, updated Jan 18, 2023