Remote work could keep fueling high turnover: 'The map is open for job seekers'

Getty Images

More than 4 million people quit their jobs in August, marking the 15th straight month where as many people left their old jobs for something new. That's despite months of headlines indicating companies are easing up on hiring, rescinding offers and laying off workers to prepare for an economic downturn — one that's yet to materialize.

At its peak, 4.5 million total non-farm workers — which excludes proprietors, private household employees, unpaid volunteers, farm employees, and the unincorporated self-employed — quit in November 2021, and momentum has remained strong.

The novelty of high turnover is becoming the new normal, says Anthony Klotz, an organizational psychologist and UCL management professor who coined the term "Great Resignation" in 2021.

At this point, it's clear workers aren't just walking away from bad jobs but are instead walking toward and building new ways of working. For example, remote work has given people a "glimmer of hope" that work can look different than it did in 2019, Klotz says.

There's even reason to believe remote work is a big reason why we can expect to see high turnover become a permanent fixture of the labor market, says Julia Pollak, chief economist at ZipRecruiter.

Remote work makes it easier and more beneficial to quit

A desire for remote work, and the ease of taking new work in a remote setting, are both driving some of the turnover in the labor market, Pollak says. And as remote work has become a more enduring and consequential element in the future of work, "we may see more churn in the labor market permanently than we would have without the pandemic and increase in remote work."

For one, there's the ongoing appetite for it: Upwards of 60% of job seekers hope to find remote opportunities, according to ZipRecruiter data, and they're willing to quit an in-person job to land one. As of August, 11% of workers said they were dissatisfied with their job and looking for another where they could work from home. Among those out of work, 8% quit an in-person job to look for a work-from-home position.

Further, the cost of switching jobs is lower when remote work is on the table, Pollak adds.

Changing jobs is less disruptive when you're able to make the shift from home, and the opportunities and benefits are much higher. Workers can make big life changes, like moving, without having to find a new job — or, on the flip side, people can take up new work for a company headquartered outside their city without having to move.

"The map is open for job-seekers who no longer need to search for a job in a certain ZIP code. You can search for roles across the entire country," she says.

Among recent job-switchers, 14% said changing jobs allowed them to move into a role that could be done remotely, and they reported feeling more satisfied and engaged in their new position than in-office employees.

About 12% of job postings on ZipRecruiter explicitly state that employees may work remotely. But more than half, 56%, of full-time U.S. workers — more than 70 million people — say their job can be done working remotely from home, according to Gallup.

Creative perks are 'taking off like wildfire'

Employers have responded to high turnover by raising pay and offering new benefits, like remote and flexible work. But so far, it hasn't been enough to temper disruptive turnover.

"Persistence in the level of churn is a big head scratcher for employers who keep expecting people will go back to normal," Pollak says. "Instead, they're confronting 22% more quits every month than before pandemic."

Business leaders are facing "enormous pressure to cave to workers' demands," and in response are getting creative with other incentives that improve the work experience. Pollak says employers are "responding to sales calls with vendors offering to solve problems," from apps that offer on-demand pay, to platforms that create more accommodating shift schedules, to services where employers can help pay off an employee's student loans.

"Tools that make workers' lives easier are taking off like wildfire because they're things that don't raise costs for employers," she adds.

Employers are also offering benefits that help support workers outside of the workplace: sabbaticals; fertility assistance and new baby benefits; pet insurance; mental health and wellness benefits; vacation stipends; birthdays off and volunteer PTO.

Could quitting confidence cool?

As for turnover, the coming months will be a test as to whether workers still feel confident about quitting. Job openings fell by 1 million in August, a sign that the labor market could be cooling as rising interest rates slow demand for goods, services and labor.

With that said, some job seekers' confidence in the market rebounded in September following an all-time low in August, according to ZipRecruiter's monthly index. Some 1 in 4 workers are so confident that they'd quit their job without a new one lined up, and about 1 in 3 job seekers expect wage growth to keep accelerating.

Check out:

Job openings dropped by 1 million last month—here's why

California job-seekers will soon see salary ranges on job postings

Why does work feel so dysfunctional right now? A psychologist, labor expert and CEO weigh in

Sign up now: Get smarter about your money and career with our weekly newsletter

How a 22-year-old making $32,000 in Cincinnati, Ohio spends her money
How a 22-year-old making $32,000 in Cincinnati, Ohio spends her money