Job Front: Some resigned to better job market

Quitting jobs as a sign of an improving employment market seems counter-intuitive. But one employment expert says the latest labor figures show employees’ growing confidence is leading their march to the exits.

“Quit levels offer important clues about the strength of the job market,” said John Challenger, CEO of Chicago-based outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

Challenger tucked into the latest data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, www.bls.gov/jlt , released in late October. The report, which produces monthly information on job openings, hires and separations, showed the numbers of American workers giving their two weeks’ notice is on the rise.

“(T)he rising number of individuals willing to walk away from a job suggests that more are being lured away by other employers or that they are confident enough in their job prospects that they can leave before securing a new position,” Challenger said in a statement.

More than 2.36 million employees nationwide voluntarily left their jobs in August – the latest month recorded in the survey – accounting for more than half of the nearly 4.4 million who separated from their jobs that month. That’s more than in each of the previous four months and some 220,000 more than the 2.14 million who quit their jobs in August 2012.

“People walk out of the door in two ways – of their own volition or not. People are voting with their feet,” Challenger said later in a telephone interview. “As the number of quits grows, we can read confidence into that. It’s a version of consumer confidence. We have recruiters who are pulling people away, more help wanted signs for jobs.”

Uncertainty remains in Washington and economic recovery continues its slow grind, but unemployment has shrunk from its double-digit heights and Challenger says employees believe their footing is sure enough to venture out for new opportunities after years of hunkering down.

“We’ve hit a different plateau than a few years back,” Challenger said. “We’re not in an economy that’s growing by leaps – it’s inching forward – but it’s more solid than before.”

Challenger suggested job dissatisfaction is also behind the higher numbers. But, regardless of the reason, he said employees seeking greener grass should proceed with caution.

Leaving a job “is not a decision to be treated rashly,” Challenger said.

He pointed to the two years before the Great Recession when more than 2.9 million a month walked away from their jobs.

“Even from an economic standpoint, we don’t know how long this cycle of slow expansion is going to go. Often confidence is at its peak before the break.”

If you are seeking a new start, Challenger says to be smart about your search. A new opportunity may be closer than you think:

“Look for a job while you are working,” Challenger said. “The job market takes place all the time. Always look at yourself as a free agent.”

“If you’re thinking about leaving, search in a consistent, diligent way,” Challenger said. “Meet people each week. Don’t rush or panic.”

“See if you can make things work out with your company. Maybe there’s a new opening or a new boss. Explore where else you might fit. There may be new responsibilities or potential within an organization that you may not know.”

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Contact Job Front at dvsmith@sacbee.com.