July 10, 2020

While low turnover is typically a sign of employee loyalty and satisfaction, it can also be due to employees holding on to their current jobs because of feelings of fear or hopelessness. When employees are voluntarily leaving their jobs in high numbers, it generally signifies that they have a sense of optimism about the future and the economy. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, employee job hopping occurred at historically high rates over the past several years. Then March 2020 arrived. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic brought a change in the labor market along with high unemployment rates that left employees holding on tightly to the jobs they had. In March 11.5 million employees were laid off and 2.8 million quit their jobs. In April, only 1.8 million Americans quit their jobs - the lowest number of quits in any month since July 2010. 

Quit rates – the number of jobs quit in a particular month divided by total employment – are considered one of the leading indicators of the health of the labor market. During the height of the Great Recession in 2009 quit rates fell to 1.2%. After 10 years of economic recovery the quit rate climbed to 2.4% in 2019, the highest it had been since the late 1990s.  The U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics reported the quit rate for May 2020 at 1.6%, up slightly from 1.4% in April, but still a great deal lower that the quit rate of 2.3% in February.  As you can see from these examples, quit rates tend to be up during the high economic times and down during the difficult economic times. 

So how can managers motivate employees who may be feeling “stuck” to stay engaged and productive? Competitive compensation and employee benefits are key components. Here are a few additional suggestions:

  1. Try to Maintain Business As Usual – Keep up regular meetings and make sure you and your team are still focusing on long-term personal development. This can be accomplished by providing online training, either internally or through an external source. This will help to give employees a sense of direction.
  2. Create a Safe Workplace – Obviously, this includes making sure your employees feel physically safe by providing things like personal protective equipment (PPE) and sanitation procedures. However, it is also important for employees to feel like they are being taken care of emotionally. Keep lines of communication open so employees can share. Encourage them to discuss their uncertainties so that they feel heard. 
  3. Try to be Flexible – Many of your employees may be having difficulty balancing work and home life right now. Whether it’s having kids home because summer camp is closed, or taking care of a sick or elderly relative, it is helpful to have a flexible work schedule. Work with your team to find a schedule that works best for all of you. Remember, you probably hired this person because you trusted in their responsibility and ability to contribute to the organization.
  4. Redefining Work-from-Home as a Perk – Working from home used to be considered a top employee perk. Now it feels more like the norm.  
Determine what your commitment to your employees will be during this period. IBM CEO, Arvind Krishna, developed an eight point pledge that he and his managers utilize in an attempt to bring a human touch to their workforce. The pledge includes things like supporting flexibility, checking in on people and being family sensitive. Mr. Krishna’s “IBM Work From Home Pledge” can be found on LinkedIn.  
Sources: SHRM, “As Jobs Disappear, Employees Hang on to What They Have” Quartz, “Data Shows Americans are Afraid to Quit Their Jobs Right Now” Suess, “5 Ways Your Employee Retention Program Needs to Adjust in the COVID-19 Crisis” LinkedIn, “The IBM Work From Home Pledge During Times of COVID-19”

HR/AA consultants are available to work with you on a project and/or interim basis to assist you with understanding, implementing and administering best practices related to the current COVID-19 challenges we are facing.

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