25 November 2014

Take the job (statistic) and shove it!

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics jobs report is out for the period ending September 2014. There is an interesting tidbit that jumped out when one compares the number of voluntary separations – those who quit outright – to the overall job openings. The latter number remained stable month to month (in fact, it went down slightly). The number of people who quit jobs, however, went up: “The number of quits increased from 2.5 million in August to 2.8 million in September. This was the highest level of quits since April 2008.” It seems that, statistically, at least, many of those who quit found jobs, as the number of hires increased by a corresponding amount. But that’s a statistical trick: the hires rate would obviously include people who were hired after months of searching and long – some would say overly long and onerous – recruitment processes.

The US BLS claims that “the quits rate can serve as a measure of workers’ willingness or ability to leave jobs,” possibly suggesting a healthy availability of jobs in which to land when jumping out of current employment. However, given the relative stability of openings, this glib conclusion should be critically questioned.

There is an old adage which states, “people don’t quit jobs, they quit managers.” Given the meanness that has crept into corporate cultures of late, the (un)natural selection of dark triad managers for promotion to leadership positions, and the behavioural trickle-down effect in which aggressive bad-boy behaviour at the top of the status hierarchy is emulated by those lower down as a de facto road to career success, I’m not surprised at the fact that workers are jumping ship in ever greater numbers. I personally know of several people who left one of Canada’s so-called Best Places to Work because the environment was so unbearably toxic. In another case with which I am familiar, a dark-triad manager was given a free rei(g)n of terror until fired, apparently for financial malfeasance. Only after did the manager’s abusive behaviours become known. (And the employee engagement survey was of no use in ferreting out the problems because the environment was unsafe rendering the results unreliable.)

People don’t quit jobs, they quit managers. Is the increased turnover rate in your organization – perhaps concentrated in one or two particular areas – the proverbial canary in the managerial coal mine?

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