The latest voluntary quit (turnover) rate shows nearly twice the amount of employees quit their jobs in July 2020 than those who quit in April 2020.

Even during a global pandemic, a historic recession (hopefully on a short one), high unemployment, and general fear and restlessness, U.S. workers still control the job market. Yes that is right, employees still voluntarily leave jobs even in these conditions. And we predicted it would happen.

I have written several articles over the past few years related to voluntary employee turnover. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks and reports the Quit Rate which is a measure of voluntary turnover in the U.S. workforce.

In August of 2019, voluntary turnover reached its highest volume ever since the BLS began tracking this measure in 2001. Over 4.4 million U.S. workers chose to leave their jobs last August which represented almost 3% of the U.S. workforce quitting their jobs in a single month. Over 42 million employees quit their jobs in 2019, representing nearly a quarter of the entire U.S. workforce.

2020 began just as we predicted with about 3.5 million workers quitting their jobs.  Then the pandemic swept across the U.S causing significant health and economic issues in practically every major employment center. By April, unemployment skyrocketed to 14.7% and voluntary turnover was down 50% to just over 1.7 million workers.

By the summer, most cities and states began to find ways to to partially or fully open their economies and get workers back on the payroll. That made employee retention experts like us ask: Will voluntary turnover return or will employees hunker down in their jobs to ride out the murky economic outlook?

That question was answered when the most recent published numbers from July 2020 showed voluntary turnover roared back to just shy of 3.4 million workers (keep in mind the quit rate is reported about 90 days after the month).

I have closely monitored voluntary turnover in the U.S. for the last ten years.  Beginning in 2017, Work Institute began publishing an annual Retention Report focused on the trends and reasons for voluntary turnover in the U.S. workforce. The only real explanation for the high level of voluntary turnover in 2019 was that employers were still not doing enough to create conditions where employees would stay. Whether it was career development issues, career issues, or manager behavior, organizations were not doing what it takes to get employees to stay and reduce voluntary turnover.

It turns out that even during a global pandemic, almost 3.4 million workers needed to leave their job for something else. We do not always know what that something else is, maybe it was to be at home with kids or maybe early retirement.  I suspect it is something else entirely. Employees expect more from their employers. Perhaps they want career development opportunities, a manager who knows how to treat people properly, or just some understanding from their employer. It is impossible to know what would keep them employed without asking.

With a global pandemic and its impact on the workplace, employers had an incredible opportunity to raise their game and begin listening to employees to create the conditions where employees stay.  The numbers say this did not happen.

We predicted this would happen. We stated a huge number of employers were going to miss this opportunity to listen carefully and communicate effectively to create the environment where employees stay. I stated that I thought voluntary turnover would go up just as soon as the employment rate began to drop. It happened.

The question for employers now is what to do. I do not think it is too late, but the game is in the final minutes. Companies must start to listen to their employees, both current and former. They need to know why employees quit, and what the company could do to prevent it from happening in the future.