Covid and its Delta and Omicron variants are not the only easily transmissible threats to businesses these days.  Quitting is also contagious and it is spreading fast.  More than 4.5 million US workers left their jobs voluntarily in November, a number not seen in two decades of tracking.

Those record November departures followed three prior months of only slightly fewer worker exits. What is causing this nationwide worker unrest?  I’ll spare you the knee-jerk explanation that it’s the pandemic; too many exabytes of data have been spent on that subject.  Nor can I offer any credible, regulatory/political explanations.  It seems the answer may be more anthropological.

It’s basic human behavior.

According to the January 21, 2022 issue of The New York Times (NYT), a recent LinkedIn poll indicated that nearly 3 out of 5 US workers said that a colleague’s work departure would cause them to consider doing the same.  It makes sense.  When someone you know quits, it is only natural to ask, “Why?”  That question quickly leads to others like, “Where is your new job,” and “How much are they paying you?”  The answers received may well prompt or, perhaps, accelerate one’s career assessment.  Judging from recent statistics, quitting soon follows.

It has been called the “quitting contagion.”  Quitting begets more quitting, a trend that employers can’t always solve with raises.  US employers raised wages last year and are projected to increase wages by nearly 3.5% again in 2022.  Yet, the wave of worker exits continues.  With inflation tracking at 6.8% annually, is the solution as simple as raising workers’ wages still further?

Not necessarily.

For many employers, particularly those in the retail and hospitality industries, the solution may include raising work hours as well.  I am not advocating for overtime.  I am referring to the distinction between part time versus full time work.  Yes, many employers are raising wages but those wages are often for part time work.  Such firms continue to avoid the added benefit costs of committing to full time employment.  It’s a time honored strategy, one that worked well in pre-pandemic times.  It seems to be working less well now.

What can non retail/hospitality industry managers do?  I’ve written about this before, so I will spare readers a detailed rehash of my earlier blog post.  I’ll simply mention a well known business aphorism:  A company’s best workers leave first.  They are the most marketable and have a greater choice of opportunities.  Particularly in today’s job market.  So, logic suggests that, if quitting is indeed contagious and one wishes to avoid an “outbreak” of worker departures, having candid discussions with one’s best and most (workplace) influential employees is a good place to start.  Be proactive.  To quote the NYT article again, “Even a single resignation notice can breed a “hot spot.”


Peter Dragone - Co-founder of Keurig.