What is Turnover Contagion?

The term “turnover contagion” evokes two distinctly fearful concepts, at least from the perspective of employers: pandemics and retention challenges; and the link this term creates is fairly apt. Employees have been leaving their jobs in increasing numbers, even posting about the joys of quitting live on social media.

Employees on the Move

“Quitting has gone viral – both online and in real life,” writes Kate Morgan in an article for BBC Worklife. She points to data from the US Bureau of Labour Statistics indicating that almost 49 million employees quit their jobs in 2021—and more than 50 million in 2022.

Even many of those still on the job may be thinking about leaving, surveys indicate. Morgan says that, “according to LinkedIn data from a poll of 2,000 workers, nearly three-quarters of Gen Zers and two-thirds or millennials are thinking about quitting this year. Older generations are also contemplating resignations, including 55% of Gen Xers and a third of Baby Boomers.”

Quitting may be on the rise generally, but is that really the same thing as a quitting “contagion,” which would suggest quitting is not only growing but self-perpetuating within organizations or larger populations?


How Bad is it Really?

Why are workers on the run? Primarily because they’ve come to crave more flexibility and work life balance, to make a better salary or to receive better benefits, or to escape a toxic culture.

The problem is that “quitting begets quitting,” Morgan says. “Researchers coined an effect called turnover contagion to describe a phenomenon in which once one person resigns, the probability of their colleagues following suit increases – according to one report, as many as 25%.”

Tenure among American workers has been falling and turnover increasing for decades; however, the past few years, triggered in part by the pandemic and its side-effects, have included a notable uptick, and some observers believe the trend may be self-perpetuating, a “turnover contagion.” To the extent this is accurate, it’s all the more reason for employers to work hard to create workplaces in which employees feel satisfied and want to stay.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.

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