When Co-workers Quit … and There’s Pressure to Jump Ship

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Some workplace turnover is healthy. In fact, it’s necessary—and averages between 15 and 20 percent annually. If you’ve been in the business world long, you know this—people get bored, they want more money and they leave. Businesses also work to stay trim, periodically cutting from the bottom—replacing their least productive employees.

But if you’re a Millennial working for an organization with a lot of other young workers, turnover (especially when it seems high and it’s from colleagues quitting) can evoke a lot of uneasy feelings ….

A conversation with my 23-year-old niece revealed her concerns of “being the only one still there.” She’s been with her organization for a short 1 1/2 years and has slowly watched newly found work friends jump ship for better pay and “more interesting” jobs. She’s been successful there, being named employee of the year in 2016, but she’s struggling to stay put, admitting that the exodus is making her question her own job and the solidness of the company. It also causes her to magnify the flaws in her own job and the organization.

It’s important to remember that some turnover is normal and that any decision to move on should be based on solid evidence and facts and not that feeling of “being left behind on a sinking ship.”

Some illuminating Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) turnover data: “Quits” data did indeed show an upturn in 2016. But, it is accompanied by an upturn in hires and job openings. This would be an expected outcome as the job market continues to return to prerecession (2006) levels. So with a lower unemployment rate, greater hiring rate and higher number of job openings, of course workers are confident and more able to quit.

A few interesting highlights from a bls.gov report and several other sources:

  • “Hires have increased since their low in June 2009 and are near their prerecession levels. In December 2016, there were 5.3 million hires.”
  • “Quits have increased since their low in September 2009 and are near their prerecession levels. In December 2016, there were 3.0 million quits.”
  • “Job openings have increased since their low in July 2009. They returned to their prerecession level in March 2014 and surpassed their prerecession peak in August 2014. There were 5.5 million open jobs on the last business day of December 2016.”
  • “The number of quits has exceeded the number of layoffs and discharges for most of record-keeping history. During the latest recession, this relationship changed as layoffs and discharges outnumbered quits from November 2008 through March 2010.”
  • The difference between the number of quits and the number of layoffs and discharges has been increasing since April 2010. In December 2016, there were 1.3 million more quits than layoffs and discharges.
  • Employees stay with a company longer as they get older. “Median tenure of workers ages 55 to 64 was 10.1 years, three times that of workers ages 25 to 34 years at 2.8 years.” In 2016, slightly less than half (44%) of Millennials surveyed expect to leave their current employer in the next two years.
  • Employee tenure (“quits” not separated) by age bls.gov figures show:*

          ages 20 to 24 from 2006 to 2016 steady at 1.3 years (rising to 1.5 in 2010)

          ages 25 to 34 at 2.9 years in 2006, 3.1 in 2010, 3.2 in 2012, 3.0 in 2014 and 2.8 in 2016

          ages 35 to 44 at 4.9 years in 2006, rising slightly in 2010-2014, and back to 4.9 in 2016

          ages 45 to 54 at 7.3 years in 2006, and steadily rising to 7.9 in 2016

          ages 55 to 64 at 9.3 years in 2006, and slightly higher after to the 2016 level of 10.1

          ages 65 and over at 8.8 years in 2006 to 10.3 in 2016

          *This bls.gov table shows older data.

  • “Younger workers do tend to change jobs more often than older workers, but that’s always been true as far back as the 1980s. Every month, about 3 percent of young workers (those between age 22 and 29 ) change jobs, compared to about 4 percent in the 1990s,” from fivethirtyeight.com.

When a work colleague leaves, it’s normal to feel pressure, especially as the departing colleague talks excitedly about his or her new venture—the “amazing” benefits, the “perfect” boss (justifying, rationalizing, celebrating his or her decision). This pressure is the reason turnover often happens in waves, suggests getlighthouse.com.

When you feel this pressure, do take time to reevaluate your situation honestly (remembering that the age of the workers quitting could be a big factor). See the opportunities (more responsibility, advancement) as well as the negatives. Realize the grass is always greener and that every job has negative aspects. Be happy for your colleague. Don’t let inertia keep you from moving on. But also don’t feel compelled to leave simply because others have. Sometimes, if the opportunities are there, staying takes courage.

abandon ship

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