Job turnover increases in recovering market

The Baltimore SunJuly 6, 2013 

Patrick McAvoy knew his job had some drawbacks. As a contract employee at the University of Maryland-Baltimore, he lacked benefits and long-term stability, but he stayed on as an events coordinator for three years, hoping to be hired full time and seeing little opportunity elsewhere.

This year, the job market shifted, and by spring he had two offers.

“It was pretty stunning. You send out résumés so many times and don’t hear anything back, then you hear back from multiple places, and all of them are good opportunities for your future,” said McAvoy, 28, who turned down an information technology job at the Johns Hopkins University to be an events planner for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

McAvoy’s good fortune illustrates a significant shift in the slowly recovering job market: As hiring picks up across the nation, more people are leaving their jobs voluntarily – a promising sign for workers, companies and the economy.

The “quit rate” – the percentage of American workers who leave jobs voluntarily – has risen to the highest level in four years. That shows that workers are more confident about finding new jobs, said Sophia Koropeckyj, an economist with Moody’s Economy.com.

“When people change jobs, they (usually) change to better jobs and change to higher-paying jobs,” Koropeckyj said. “When people don’t change jobs, they can be dissatisfied, and morale is low. If they’re there because they’re afraid to leave the job, that could have an effect on productivity. The ability to change jobs is a good sign in the economy.”

The number of available jobs, which plummeted to less than 2.2 million in July 2009, during the recession, has averaged nearly 3.8 million since the beginning of 2013, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Recovery remains slow

Despite the nation’s job growth, the economic recovery has been slow, and its prospects remain uncertain. Many job seekers have been forced to accept lower-paying jobs than they held before the recession.

Sequestration, the automatic federal spending cuts designed to reduce the deficit, as well as the expiration of the payroll tax holiday have prevented the economy from growing more quickly, said Richard P. Clinch, director of economic research for the University of Baltimore’s Jacob France Institute. Additionally, the global recession and the slower growth of China’s economy have reduced exports.

Until consumers become more optimistic about the economy’s future, they won’t be spending; businesses, in turn, won’t reinvest profits until customers return, Clinch said. Even as conditions improve, job openings must grow an additional 10 to 20 percent to get back to pre-recession levels, he added.

With the expansion of the job market, more than half of the 153 organizations surveyed by consulting firm OI Partners reported higher turnover, according to research released in May. And that involved all types of jobs, including middle managers and senior-level executives.

More and better offers

Employers are responding – especially to supervisors and those tagged as future leaders – by offering job coaching and increasing pay and benefits, said Patty Prosser, chair of OI Partners.

“Companies are getting aggressive with counteroffers of more money or better quality of life,” said Patrice Rice, founder of Patrice & Associates, a hospitality recruiting agency near Annapolis, Md. “A lot are starting to put together packages for employees that are more attractive. … The job seekers are using the new job offers to get a better opportunity at their current position.”

Finding replacement workers, meanwhile, can be difficult.

In the restaurant industry, which traditionally has high turnover, replacing a manager can take two months, Rice said.

Even within the past year, employees were afraid to change jobs because of nationwide financial instability, Rice said.

“People were worried about whether a restaurant or hotel chain would be able to stay open or have to close a location,” she said.

But now confidence among hospitality industry workers is rising, she said. Restaurants are opening new locations, hotels are expanding, and companies are looking for managers, shift leaders, cooks and servers.

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