Prepare For The Great COVID Job Churn

I’ve been in the executive search business for most of my adult life, founding one of America’s leading boutique search firms, and I’ve never seen anything like this. 

More people than I’ve ever seen are looking to move on, and more businesses, not-for-profit organizations and places of worship are looking for new leadership.

That’s why I’m predicting that one of the unexpected consequences of COVID-19 will be what I’m calling “The Great COVID Job Churn.” I believe this massive job turnover trend could result in as much as a 20% change in our national workforce at the executive level.

Wait and see — 2021 will result in unprecedented turnover in job markets across the country. Here’s why: 

1.People hunkered down in 2020

Turnover is part of the natural order of the labor market. But a lot of the turnover that would have naturally occurred in 2020 simply didn’t, leaving a backlog of people who are ready for a change once normalcy returns. Some people didn’t want to inject the uncertainty of a job change into an already crazy year. Some stayed out of a sense of duty to their companies. Whatever the reason, the market has a latent buildup of job seekers just as baby boomers continue to retire at a record pace. 

2.People Are Rethinking Their Options

Humans are creatures of habit, and our habits often form ruts that are hard to escape. One silver lining of 2020 is that everyone’s work habits were broken. The lockdowns of the spring and remote work since then has given a lot of people a chance to reevaluate why they do what they do. People have had time to think, and the pandemic has made the entire world remember that life is short, fragile and fleeting. The result is a massive number of people asking big questions about life, vocation, and why they do the job they do. People who hadn’t considered leaving their jobs or seeking new opportunities have had a long break from their regular routines and are starting to think about what’s next. They’re not just considering pay or job title, but why they work. This dynamic has been going on for a while (just look at how many views Simon Sinek’s talk on “Why” has gathered). COVID-19 has accelerated the conversation, which will directly accelerate turnover in 2021 and send an unprecedented number of corporate executives into the not-for-profit sector, vacating their coveted C-suite roles.

3.People Are Ready To Move Closer To Home

People aren’t just asking “why” they do what they do; they are questioning “where” they do what they do. The pandemic has already and will continue to usher in a great geographic redistribution of the workforce. Record numbers of people are leaving urban areas for more desirable places to live. Austin, Texas, is seeing record job growth, fueled by people leaving the Bay Area of California. Park City is welcoming an exodus of people from Salt Lake and other areas around the country. Just as COVID-19 accelerated remote meetings, it has created a world where many jobs can be done from anywhere. Record numbers of people state they are working in a fully remote setting that can be anywhere. Compounding these factors, the crisis of 2020 has made many people want to move back home, closer to family and friends, or closer to aging parents or growing grandchildren. Once the dust of the crisis settles, more people will be ready to move than ever before. With those moves will come a rapid increase in job turnover. 

4. Jobs Have Changed 

Here’s a very typical call our team gets from candidates these days, “my company hasn’t done anything wrong. But this job has changed. It’s not what I signed up for, and it’s not going back to the way it was.” All jobs change over time, but COVID-19 has accelerated the pace like never before. Entire industries have been disrupted. Office jobs have become remote. All of that change will generate a lot of turnover across all age groups, particularly among baby boomers who are moving up their retirement

How Can I Prepare For Turnover?

So all of this turnover is coming, how in the world do I prepare? 

If you’re thinking of making a change, know that you’re not alone. This might be exactly the year to take a leap — just make sure it’s for the right reasons. 

If you’re a supervisor trying to keep your team from leaving, focus on creating an irresistible work environment and making sure you pay your people fairly

Additionally, make a list now of the people you really want to keep in 2021 and consider a raise or bonus. It will likely cost you less to invest in these areas than it will to replace a valuable employee.

One final piece of advice: buckle up. I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I’ve never seen this many tremors in the employee market at once. Mark my words, no matter how wonderful a boss you are and how cool your company is, The Great COVID Churn is coming for you.

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