If you’re looking for reasons why quitting is the hottest job market trend, don’t seek answers from business news sources.
Try the sports world.
Some stunning movements by high-profile college football coaches show us how loyalty to the employer is a losing game plan. I can’t think of a less-discussed reason why 4 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in October — up 25% in a year.
Note that two of the nation’s top football programs — Oklahoma and Notre Dame — saw highly compensated, successful head coaches bolt to new gigs literally overnight with scant warnings or farewells.
And their 2021 seasons, both of which were rather successful, hadn’t finished yet. Call me “old school” but I remember when people gave two weeks’ notice, at a minimum.
Obviously, these coaches’ new employers — USC and Louisiana State, respectively — had no qualms about a new hire who’d act so brazenly. The message these hires sent about commitment, especially to young adults, is distressing.
Yes, I’m fully aware that loyalty is a two-way street and sports is definitely what-have-you-done-for-me-lately work.
The University of Miami, for example, put its football coach in a hugely awkward position, essentially saying they’d keep him unless another coach quit his job and came to the Florida school — which he did.
Let’s also admit that college football is not the only sports industry where job security at the top of the ladder doesn’t exist. Three pro hockey coaches have already been fired in a season that’s not even half complete.
Now, athletics can often be an overused and poor metaphor for the business world. Yet the typical boss — whether they run a mom and pop shop or corporate giant — knows today’s workers think a lot like the “free agents” of the sports world: The best deal wins.
Quitting isn’t always a winning strategy.
My trusty spreadsheet tells me in the early days of the pandemic’s economic icing, the national quit rate fell to a seven-year low of 1.7%. Bosses knew it and the typical wage hike fell to 2.6% — the smallest raise in three years, according to the federal Employment Cost Index.
But as the nation’s health and wealth rebounded in 2021, quits rose to a record-high 2.9% pace this summer. And it was likely no coincidence that wages soared 4.6% in a year.
You don’t need an MBA to understand that playing the job market for the best workplace arrangement is Capitalism 101. But 2021 job movement isn’t simply about monetary maximization. Quit statistics by industry reveal a clear trend: Workers don’t want to deal with other humans.
My trusty spreadsheet found businesses with high levels of consumer interactions — a challenging chore in a pandemic-scarred world — have the highest growth in quits.
Start with workers at arts, entertainment and recreation businesses, an industry clobbered by pandemic business limitations. There were 87,000 quits nationwide in October, up 58% in a year.
A huge part of the troubled tourism industry, hotel and food services saw 806,000 quits, up 43%.
Private educational services, such as tutoring or trade schools, had 52,000 quits, up 49%. Personal services, the “other” services category, had 133,000 quits, up 36% in a year.
And 698,000 people quit their retailing job, up 32% in a year.
For much of this century, bosses seemed to have the upper hand in the job market.
Unions lost power. Fears of outsourcing or other workplace upheaval kept workers timid. And a don’t-rock-the-boat mentality helped others juggle “work-life” headaches.
The Great Recession amplified all of this. Recruiters had ample applications to choose from, and employees knew it, so they continued to remain loyal. Wage hikes that routinely topped a 2.5% annual rate for most of the 2000s, post-downturn, barely bested that same level until late in the 2010s.
Next, consider the pace of quitting. “Voluntary” departures peaked in 2006, just before the economy imploded, at a monthly average pace of 2.2% of all workers. By 2009, mid-recession, quits were just 1.3% of the workforce as employers were simply happy to get that paycheck.
Yet a long-running economic expansion out of the Great Recession eventually tweaked the boss-worker dynamic. The job market shed most of its unemployed workers while an aging nation saw more folks retire.
Long-simmering workplace resentments started to boil, even before COVID-19 rewrote the career-management manual. That 2006 peak quit rate was finally topped in 2018 and again in 2019. After 2020’s pandemic-throttled economy largely healed, workers began saying goodbye to the boss at a historically swift frequency.
Why did loyalty sag? Well, I’ll suggest you think like many sports fans do when their favorite team fails.
Blame the coaches.
Jonathan Lansner is the business columnist for the Southern California News Group. He can be reached at [email protected]
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