Voluntary Quits Rising As Engagement Measures Decline

Whether a sign of confidence or desperation, the number of workers quitting without having another job is growing. Last month alone nearly 1.1 million workers left their jobs.

It’s the largest number of  “job-leavers,” as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls them, in more than a decade. Included in the count are workers who took buyouts, some who quit ahead of a dismissal, and others who may be taking time off before starting a new job. The bulk, however, are those who decided to leave a job without having another lined up.

There’s no way of telling what kind of workers these job-leavers are. However, any number of surveys over the last few years show there’s a gathering wave of intentions about leaving, if not actual departures.

“Top performers have had it with stagnant opportunities and rewards, and are starting to jump ship now that the job market is a bit looser,” says Dr. Pat Sikor, TNS Employee Insights Senior Researcher. Pointing to declining scores on employee engagement surveys, she says it “reflects the pent-up demand of employees to want more than what they have.”

TNS Employee Insights conducts surveys and research into the effect of employee engagement on business performance. Its recent research shows a dramatic drop in some key measures of engagement. Between 2006 and 2011, TNS found a 17.6 percent reduction in employees who feel their company rewards them according to the value of their performance. There has been a nearly 13 percent decline in their feelings about the company when it comes to personal development and growth.

Other surveys have found similar results. What this suggests is that employees are disengaging, with most choosing not to become job-leavers, but ready to bolt should an opportunity come along.

BlessingWhite, which conducts a periodic broad, global study of engagement, found last year that 13 percent of North American workers planned to leave their current job in a year. That was almost twice the 7 percent who planned to quit in the 2008 survey. While workers were about as engaged last year as in 2008 (57 percent v. 56 percent), the less engaged the worker, the more likely they said they were to leave. Older workers were more likely to be engaged; millennials, the least engaged.

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Disengaged and disengaging workers aren’t necessarily minimum performers. There is a correlation between engagement and performance, as the BlessingWhite report details. However, for any number of reasons (many of them referenced in these reports), top performers can grow disenchanted.

Why did workers want to leave? The BlessingWhite survey found 28 percent of North Americans cited lack of career opportunities. That was also an area where the TNS Employee Insights survey saw a decline from 2006. In the 2010 survey, worker satisfaction with career opportunities within their current company had declined 14.3 percent; 48 percent said they were satisfied in the most recent survey.

With the economic malaise continuing and job creation barely keeping up with population growth, most workers aren’t too likely to simply walk out the door with no place to go, although obviously tens of thousands do. Fewer will go out in Joey style, producing a video of his musical resignation seen now by 3 million. But top talent that grows disenchanted has opportunities. Whether they call that headhunter who left them a message or put out the word to their network, they will find another job.

However, as TNS’ Sikor says, “The key to retaining top talent therefore is simple: move the needle and increase employee engagement.” She’ll be one of the speakers at a free TNS webinar on Dec. 6 — “How to Retain Top Talent – Moving the Needle in Employee Engagement,” which is HRCI approved.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “Voluntary Quits Rising As Engagement Measures Decline

  1. Hi John,

    Retention is bad for recruiters, and turnover is good. Our recruiting community should urge everyone they know to quit their jobs, and do it NOW!

    Happy Thanksgiving,


  2. Great info John.

    Keith, as always, you share an interesting perspective! While you might hope for a continued vicious cycle of poor employer engagement and disenchanted workers to maintain high turnover in the job market, it is not good for businesses.

    I believe engagement is crucial to the future performance of all businesses. With so many Boomers leaving the workforce, employers have to calculate the risk to the organization of the imminent talent gap due to the lack of experience of incoming workers. The 85+ million Millennial generation workers who will try to fill the shoes of the 81+ million Boomers crave engagement and immediate response from everybody. Employers must learn how to engage their workers today as well as new recruits where they spend their time and how they like to communicate.

    Employers should engage employees today and retain connections with retiring talent that are currently in critical positions. A content semi-retired worker might happily work part-time to train incoming workers who would benefit from an alumni mentor program. Using mentorship to supplements the onboarding process can address another potential weak area for some employers too.

    If you want top candidates in the future, then YOU must engage THEM. Engage your top Millennial candidates immediately and where they exist, or they will reject you and keep looking elsewhere, which will only exacerbate the talent gap that most employers will surely experience.

  3. @ Anthony: Thank you, but I should have put a 😉 to show I was joking/being ironic.

    I will now be quite serious:
    As long as there are 26 million folks who want any or more work, if you’re hiring- you really don’t have to worry about engagement, since there are many folks who would happily be more “engaged” to replace any who aren’t. Furthermore, unless the Occupy Movement, etc. politicizes the Millennials, I can see a repeat of whatever you call the cohort who started working before WWII (the older part of the “Greatest Generation”?)- a generation that craved security at almost any cost. I think we can start to talk seriously about the need for “engagement work” when
    we have a few years of under 6% unemployment…If you want to “engage” your “Fabulous 5%”, give them a “multi-year, no-lay-off-with-out-cause, generous-raises-based-on-performance” employment contract. (Why does nobody ever mention that except me?)


    Keith “Not Always Joking” Halperin

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