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Wave of resignations

Job turnover rising as pandemic lags

Workers have been in short supply for months, but economists predict a record number of people will leave their jobs as the pandemic fizzles out and employees return to offices. 

“Employment’s coming back, but we’re seeing some lag with the labor force,” said Mark Hearn, professor of management at Jacksonville State University. The national quit rate — or number of jobs quit in a period of time — had been growing over the years before the pandemic, he said, though that tapered off during the pandemic. “Now people are coming back to work, but they’re not all coming back.” 

Possible explanations for the expected turnover are myriad: The American Psychological Association reported in March that 49 percent of all Americans surveyed were uneasy about returning to in-person interaction.

Others simply like working from home more than in an office, especially introverts. The Washington Post reported the results of a January Gallup Poll which revealed that more workers (44 percent) wanted to work from home after the pandemic ended than wished to go back (39 percent). 

Federal Bureau of Labor statistics for March show that turnover has grown over the last year nationwide, with 3.5 million people quitting their jobs that month compared to 2.9 million in March last year.

The South makes up more of that number than any of the bureau’s other three regions, with 1.47 million jobs quit in March this year, compared to 1.15 million last year. The Midwest ranks second highest at about 750,000 quit jobs.

Evidence that workers intend to search for new opportunities are plentiful. Results of a survey published by Prudential Financial in March showed that one in four workers are thinking about changing jobs as workplaces reopen. 

More than half of those surveyed said communicating with colleagues, learning on the job and following best practices were easier working remotely than at a job site, and 49 percent said they had saved money by not traveling to work. 

Four in five workers also said they wanted remote work to become a benefit at their business. Whether business leaders respond to that desire or not is up in the air, but the possibility of remote work and an open schedule could become a recruitment tool. 

“Companies may learn they can compete in the labor market by presenting employees with a more flexible environment,” Hearn said. “We know many organizations are concerned about the cost associated with physical buildings and the amount of space they have in those buildings, and whether or not there’s going to be a demand for them in the future.”

Assistant Metro Editor Ben Nunnally: 256-235-3560.