Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Secret Statistics - How Many People Have Quit Their Job Over the Past 12 Months, and Why?

Whenever we think about the mass of unemployed workers in America, we immediately attribute the numbers to layoffs and terminations.  However, that may be only half correct.

The US Bureau of Labor and Statistics recently reported that, in the Month of December 2010, a roughly 50% of job separations came about as a result of what have been reported to be voluntary quits.  That's an increase from December 2009, when "only" 42% of job separations were categorized as voluntary quits. Now, my experience tells me that some percentage of those "quits" were actually "quits in lieu of termination," but still...

These statistics suggest that between 5-7 Million of the 14.5 Million identified unemployed workers may have voluntarily quit their job!  Wow!  Here is a rather startling (to most of us, not the DOL!) excerpt from the attached DOL Article:

"Since February 2010, the proportions of quits and of layoffs and discharges at the total nonfarm level have been close. In December 2010, the proportion of quits for total nonfarm was 48 percent and the proportion of layoffs and discharges was 44 percent. For total private, the proportions were 49 percent quits and 44 percent layoffs and discharges. For government, the proportions were 33 percent quits and 51 percent layoffs and discharges."

Why, in these difficult economic times, are people quitting their jobs?  The answers are complex, and provide great insight into mankind.

Certainly, some of these quits left their job to take a different position.  And, as we noted above, some quits were actually terminations (to see why we recommend that you should think very carefully about quitting your job if you want unemployment benefits, type "Don't Quit That Job" into the Search Bar on this Blog).  But, how about the rest?  Why in these trying times would responsible adults choose to quit their jobs, thereby greatly jeopardizing their right to unemployment benefits and casting themselves into the pit of the Great Recession?

First, there is little doubt that many of us who have retained our jobs have been overworked and underpaid over the past few years.  The Ghost of ex-employee Jones still lingers, and you feel her presence everyday when you once again do your old job, and her old job.  Then, when you cannot complete all of the assignments that were provided to you (and who can truly do two jobs well for any sustained period of time?), you are criticized, demoted, put on a Performance Improvement Plan.   You start to take your work home with you, take it with you to that elegant dinner on Saturday night, take it with you to Church...Eventually, the stress is too great, the unrelenting criticism, both overt and sublime, becomes too much to bear, and you quit.  Click to see a great Article about this phenomena which, the author posits (and I agree) is sure to lead to a great migration of workers from one job to another as the job market opens up.

This type circumstances reveals at least one thing about our nature:  we put our peace of mind first.  When anything, including our livelihood, becomes too much to bear, we are willing to leave it behind for a little peace of mind.  As the Beatles sang on the White Album, "I'd give you everything I've got for a little peace of mind."

Many of the remaining quits fall into a different category - one I refer to as a Workonality Conflict.  It is when the boss is a real jerk, or a clique at the office leaves us feeling devalued, excluded, taken advantage of, unappreciated - and angry.  Workonality Conflicts are nearly impossible to resolve over the short term, and an employee is not protected under the law if he/she is subjected to mistreatment by bosses or co-workers (unless it arises out of discriminatory or retaliatory motive, type in "Hostile Work Environment" to learn more).  In many cases that I see, the quit could be avoided; indeed, sometimes it is the personality of the employee that exacerbates the environment.

Yet, once again, these quits often are in fact an attempt to find some peace of mind.  Sometimes, though, I am troubled to see employees quit their jobs in a sudden fit of anger over a situation that hardly warranted taking one step closer to the soup kitchen.  Typically, the employee tells me it was "a matter of principle."  To which I invariably respond, "Well, try having principle for dinner, or paying your mortgage with principle."  No, to survive we need principal first, and principle second.  These situations reveal another, less flattering aspect of our human nature - pride, anger and sometimes misguided principle can wreak true and long lasting havoc in our lives. 

When you are confronted with a Workonality Conflict, it is best to consider seeking counsel before simply up and quitting the job.  There are approaches, both social and legal, that can help you retain your job until you find an employer that truly respects and desires you.

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