Good News? More U.S. Workers Quit in February

More than 2 million U.S. workers quit their jobs in February, the U.S. Labor Department said this week, the highest since November 2008 — and, strange as it might seem, this is great news for our economy and for talent managers with positions to fill.

As noted in this blog from The Wall Street Journal, when times are tough, fewer people are willing to quit their job, usually due to the fear that they might not be able to find another one.

But when the economy is booming — or, in this particular case, still on the road to recovery — more people are willing to quit in favor of better job prospects elsewhere.

A high number of quits also produces a higher rate of “churn,” The Journal article points out, referring to the rate at which the jobs merry-go-round moves.

When there is a slower rate of churn (fewer people quitting), as economists in The Journal article explain, it becomes harder for workers to jump on the merry-go-round; when churn is moving more swiftly, it becomes easier.

The Journal article continues:

Quitting, of course, makes up just one half of churn. Companies also have to be willing to fill those open positions. That’s happening too, but slowly. Companies hired a seasonally adjusted 4.4 million workers in February, up 3.4 percent from January and 7.2 percent from a year earlier, according to the Department of Labor. (Yesterday’s hiring numbers are a gross figure, unlike Friday’s payroll figures, which report a net number of hires minus separations.) Job openings are rising faster than actual hires, which could suggest companies are dragging their feet on filling open positions.

In early February, the U.S. Labor Department had reported newly released data suggesting that that churn rate had slowed mightily since the recession, a sign that not too many workers were confident enough in the economic outlook to switch or quit jobs.

Yet apparently, judging from February’s high rate, that stance has been somewhat reversed.