Newsflash from the Bureau of Labor Statistics: In November 2021, 4.5 million people voluntarily left their jobs. That’s 3% of the nonfarm workforce, “an all-time high” and the key statistic proving The Great Resignation is real.

Well, maybe not so much. For one thing, quitting data has only been collected for a little over 20 years. In general, when the U.S. economy is strong, many new jobs and opportunities are created. As a result, more people quit their jobs in search of something better. It’s very likely that the quit rate was higher in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In the late 1940s, when the postwar economy was exploding, available data suggest that the quit rate was even higher than today. So the current situation is probably not unique.

We don’t have December’s data yet, but assuming the quit rate stayed steady, a total of 33% of nonfarm workers would have quit their jobs in 2021, per projections by The Conversation. That sounds like a lot, but in fact a large portion of American workers quit their jobs each year. For example, in 2019 the pre-pandemic quit rate was 28%. So, yes, the rate was higher than usual in 2021, but not off the charts. 

And of course the quit rate was not the same in all industries. The highest quit rates were in accommodation services, food services, and retail. The rates were much lower in construction, information, finance, insurance, and real estate. The rates are also not the same in all age groups. By far the highest turnover rate is among 16 to 24-year-olds. 

This doesn’t mean that quit rates are not a problem. Turnover is costly for employers and can be difficult and disruptive for employees. But it looks like “The Great Resignation” isn’t all that great after all.

Instead of scrambling to save all your people in the face of mass walkouts, you can focus your attention on nurturing your very best talent. If you would like help hanging onto your high performers, contact me a ggolden@gailgoldenconsulting.com.

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