Quit your job, make more money. Welcome to 2022

A "now hiring” sign at a Smith’s in Cottonwood Heights is pictured on on Friday, Jan. 21. There is a wide array of motivations behind a record wave of quitting that continues to sweep across the nation.

A "now hiring” sign at a Smith’s in Cottonwood Heights is pictured on on Friday, Jan. 21. There is a wide array of motivations behind a record wave of quitting that continues to sweep across the nation. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — There is a wide array of motivations behind a record wave of quitting that continues to sweep across the nation.

Escaping job-related stress, pining for a better work/life balance, seeking a reset from pandemic-related burnout and chasing a setting with better career growth opportunities.

But the change that may be easiest to identify and quantify for this vast new crop of quitters goes to the heart, perhaps, of the urge to seek greener employment pastures.

More money.

Job quitters are making more money. Why?

With end-of-year data still coming in, estimates indicate nearly 40 million workers will have declared "quittin' time" in the literal sense of the term in 2021. Utah accounted for 436,000 of those exits, according to data published by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Labor reported a record 4.5 million U.S. workers quit last November, exceeding the previous record of 4.2 million set in September.

While employment participation statistics suggest millions of U.S. workers have left and stayed out of the workforce amid challenging, and ongoing, conditions wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of 2021 quitters have simply found and pursued better opportunities.

Wage tracking data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta reveals those who are switching jobs right now are seeing wage increases that far outperform their colleagues that choose to stay in current positions.

Last December, those that changed jobs saw their hourly earnings rise 30% more than those that stayed in their jobs, with "job switchers" realizing 4.6% average annual wage growth versus "job stayers" that saw a 3.2% increase.

A sign advertising that Sonic is hiring is posted at a
Sonic location on 1300 South and State Street in Salt Lake City on
Friday, Jan. 21.
A sign advertising that Sonic is hiring is posted at a Sonic location on 1300 South and State Street in Salt Lake City on Friday, Jan. 21. (Photo: Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

The 'Great Resignation' is far from over

In a recent report, U.S. Chamber of Commerce researchers found market conditions that helped foster the record high rates of job separations look likely to continue well into 2022.

"As workers continue to leave their jobs en masse, the phenomenon known as the 'Great Resignation' seems to be far from over," the report reads. "According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, quits totaled 4.5 million in November, a record high, and have been trending upward since April 2020. The quit rate — defined as the number of quits as a percentage of total employment — rose to 3.0% in November, tying September's record."

And pandemic-related conditions that decimated some areas of the employment sector early on in the crisis have now led to an environment in which job seekers have greater power to secure better wage and benefit packages.

"At the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020, total separations rose to a record 16.3 million as businesses across the country laid off workers and shut down," the chamber report reads. "Separations were also high in April 2020 but then returned to more typical levels and have been trending upwards ever since.

"(Now), as businesses across the country struggle to hire, workers continue to quit in droves. Both total quits and quit rates have been rising since the spring of 2020, causing quits to account for an increasingly large share of total separations. The pandemic has caused many workers to reassess their priorities and look for jobs that offer more flexibility as well as better pay and benefits. Fortunately for them, the current labor market puts workers in a good position to make headway on these goals."

Why is the labor market so tight?

The math behind this new balance of power between companies looking to hire and those seeking jobs is pretty simple.

With current job openings numbering some 10.6 million matched against 6.9 million unemployed workers, there are about one-and-a-half jobs available for each unemployed worker.

Utah Department of Workforce Services Chief Economist Mark Knold said these supply and demand realities are a driving force behind the current jobs market, and increasingly desperate employers are simply having to offer more to reach their hiring goals.

"Right now there are more jobs available and job postings than there are people to come and take them," Knold said. "To fill a position, you may need to bid high enough to get someone who already has a job to make a move. The tighter and more competitive the playing field gets, the more of this kind of movement you see.

"And this is one of the tighter labor markets I've seen in a long time."

The U.S. Department of Labor reports some of the highest quit rates currently occurring are in the accommodations/food services sector, leisure and hospitality and retail businesses. Knold said that national data likely holds up in Utah as well and noted those industries are seeing some of the biggest upward wage movements, a factor that is both a reflection and driver of high levels of "opportunity quitting" in those areas.

"Especially in our lower-wage job sectors, you can get a raise a lot faster by quitting for a better paying job than waiting around for your current employer to give you a raise," Knold said.

Knold also highlighted another employee benefit that is on the rise amid the ultra-tight national and local labor markets. More employers, he said, are offering skills training on top of better wages to attract job seekers.

"The hiring market is so challenging right now, (companies) are taking people they would have ignored in the past and taking the time to teach them the skills they're after," Knold said.

Knold also said that while lower paying job sectors were seeing the most activity when it comes to wage increases, salaries were going up across the employment spectrum.

Factors driving the 'Great Resignation'

While increased wages and benefits, along with on-the-job training, is a powerful attractor for those looking to make more money and get on better career tracks, there are plenty of other issues at hand among the quitting phenomena.

National data collected by Utah-based customer experience and survey innovator Qualtrics last summer found myriad factors, including better pay, driving the rising employment exodus:

  • Forty-four percent of employees say they plan to look for a new job in the next year. Top reasons why: more growth opportunities, higher salary, current job is too stressful.
  • Thirty-nine percent of employees say they will stay at their current job. Top reasons why: work/life balance, purposeful work, good manager.
  • Burnout and stress are causing leaders to look for new jobs. More than half of managers and directors (53%) and executives (51%) say they will look for a new job in the next 12 months, while only 37% of individual contributors say the same. Burnout and high-stress jobs are two of the top reasons employees say they're making the switch.
  • Nearly a quarter of employees, 23%, who plan to leave their jobs in the next year say they're doing so to look for further growth opportunities.
  • Thirty-seven percent of employees said they would take some kind of a pay cut to work one less day a week.

'They're just whipped'

Dr. Benjamin Granger, Qualtrics' head of employee experience advisory services and organizational psychologist, said pandemic conditions have left employees burned out and reevaluating their professional and career priorities at unprecedented levels, and higher pay is just one of many things on the minds of unsettled workers.

"A lot of what we're hearing from employees is that they're exhausted," Granger said in a statement. "They're just whipped. As a result, many people are looking at their jobs, their companies, and work in general through a completely different lens. Many people are searching for totally new experiences and some are leaving the workforce outright.

"We know from our research that one of the main drivers of this exodus is the pursuit of higher pay. But even more than increased wages, employees are looking for a deeper purpose in their work and opportunities for personal growth. A record number of Americans are leaving their employers because they see greater potential for growth by changing employers than sticking around their current organization," Granger said.

"Going forward, it will be important for employers to not only offer job candidates competitive compensation and a great work experience now, but emphasize their broader purpose and get more creative with how they define and offer opportunities for growth."

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