Increasing confidence as more staff jump ship

2010

The US jobs market is still a long way from being as buoyant as it was before the recession. But it's a significant sign of returning confidence that more Americans quit their jobs in the past three months than were laid off - and the first indication for employers that they could soon be experiencing a stampede for the exit as their top performers quit in droves for better opportunities elsewhere.

After 15 months in which layoffs exceeded voluntary departures, official figures from the US Department of Labor show that the number of people quitting their jobs in April rose to almost 2 million compared with just 1.75 million who were laid off - the lowest number since January 2007.

Almost a million (982,000) private-sector jobs have been created this year, the figures showed. And while that's still a long way from enough to replace the 8 million that have vanished as result of the recession, the number of people willing to quit of their own volition is a clear sign t5hat confidence - and opportunities - are returning.

Just how profound the implications for this could be is spelled out in a report by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB), a research and advisory services company, which claims that a quarter of companies' top performers plan to leave their current job within a year, a far higher figure than the heady days of 2006 when the proportion was just 10 per cent.

The study also revealed that one in five employees identify themselves as "highly disengaged", a three-fold rise since 2007 and a direct reflection on the way employees feel they have been treated since the recession took hold.

Sylvia Ann Hewlett, author of Top Talent: Keeping Performance Up When Business Is Down, said that many top performers feel neglected and taken for granted. In addition, many of them are struggling by working in companies with broken business models.

"Imagine being in a company within the financial sector right now — or the pharmaceutical industry or maybe the media industry.

"There is massive turbulence in those entire industries, and those working in such companies feel that they're not involved in figuring out how to help move their company forward. They also feel that somehow they're not nearly as important as they used to be. They're struggling by working within depleted teams, given that many of their peers might have been fired over the last couple of years.

"My sense is that 50 per cent of the workforce is spending more than half of their time looking for their next job," she added.

"And keep in mind that the top performers are the most mobile, the ones who can get new jobs easily."

And if companies face a very real flight risk, they shouldn't think that offering their top performers better career prospects internally is necessarily the answer, either.

The CEB's research, which included a recent survey of 20,000 high-potential employees in more than 100 organizations worldwide, also reveals that nearly four out of 10 internal job moves made by people identified as high-potential employees end in failure.

"Organizations are at a real risk of losing their most talented employees as disengagement levels increase, the economy recovers and the labor market warms up," said The CEB's Conrad Schmidt.

"It is paramount that companies act now, not only to re-engage and retain high-potential employees, but to re-evaluate and shore up their succession plans and preserve leadership development within their organizations."

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