One of the most perplexing business-related developments in the wake of the pandemic has been the decision by thousands of workers in Florida (264,000 in September alone) to quit their jobs. Nationwide in September, some 4 million workers quit. The national media quickly found a name for the phenomenon: The Great Resignation.
Florida — which didn’t suffer from the same self-inflicted wounds as states with strict lockdowns — has taken advantage of the headstart that Gov. DeSantis’ hardnosed policies created. And the state’s economy is clearly on the rebound, with three times the rate of job growth of the nation at large. Jerry Parrish, the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s chief economist, says Florida is “doing better than the rest of the country” and has recovered more than 1 million jobs since April 2020, with 42 of the state’s 67 counties employing more people than they did pre-pandemic. Three sectors now employ more people now than they did before the pandemic: Construction; professional and business services; and financial activities.
Other sectors are still recovering. As of September, the education and health services; trade, transportation and utilities; manufacturing; and information sectors employed slightly fewer people than they did in April 2020. Education and health services showed a net job loss of more than 21,000 people compared to 2020, for example.
The big loser, however, is the leisure and hospitality sector, which accounts for nearly 85% of the net job loss. That sector employed nearly 170,000 fewer people in September than it did in April 2020. Many expected an influx of workers to surge into the workforce once various state and federal unemployment benefits ran out. The data aren’t clear, but there are indications that’s happening to some degree — the month after the benefits stopped, Florida recovered more than 84,000 jobs.
Now comes the Great Resignation. As those 264,000 workers resigned, there were 520,100 open jobs in Florida.
Why are many quitting their jobs? The reasons for all the resignations appear numerous, complex and in some cases, sector-specific. TheHarvard Business Review reports that, nationally, resignations actually decreased for workers ages 20 to 25 and those 60 to 70. Most resignations, according to the report, are coming from mid-level employees between ages 30 and 45, with an average increase of more than 20% between 2020 and 2021. Some of those mid-level workers may be quitting precisely because they have solid job skills, are confident the economy is growing again — and are quitting to move to better jobs. They could be responsible for the employment growth in the business services and financial sectors in Florida.
At the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Future of Florida Forum in late October, economists and executives offered perspectives. COVID remains a big factor. Tiffany Pratt, senior director/human resources for Orlando Health, said she’s seen 25% turnover in her system’s nursing staff. Many nurses, burned out by the grind and stress of caring for COVID patients, decided they couldn’t take it any more. Some teachers appear to have left that profession as well, scared off by COVID or done in by the general stress that the pandemic put on schools.
COVID also factors in the decision by some skilled workers in their 50s to quit. Fearful of catching the disease and buoyed by hefty growth in their retirement portfolios, some appear to have decided to retire early.
Another group that, anecdotally, has seen some workers quit involves families with two incomes and young children. Many of those families have taken a look at transportation expenses and the availability and cost of childcare and decided they will enjoy a higher quality of life with one parent at home.
Let’s pause for a moment and remember that there are currently more anecdotes than data. With 520,100 jobs available in Florida and 517,000 workers looking for jobs, it may be that COVID, at least for the moment, has shifted the workforce power balance from employers to workers. I’ve spoken with a number of employers who say they’ve hired employees who never showed up for their first day of work. Shift in work ethic? Maybe, but with so many jobs open, it’s possible the worker simply found another job with a more appealing workplace or better wages in the meantime.
Whatever you may think about the significance of the burst in resignations, the fundamental problem in Florida’s workforce remains the longstanding skills gap — workers lacking the training needed to hold the good jobs that are available. As many as a quarter of those 520,100 available jobs may be going unfilled because workers lack training for them. The good news is that training money and effective programs are available through CareerSource Florida for those looking to upgrade their skills — and find jobs that pay decently but don’t require a college education.
The other thing for employers to remember is what most workers want from a workplace — decent pay, some flexibility on the part of the employer and a pleasant workplace.
A family friend works at a small coffee shop-winebarbookstore called Book + Bottle in downtown St. Petersburg. Terra Dunham, the owner, worked in tech and publishing before becoming an entrepreneur. She says she’s had no trouble hiring and keeping workers, and even attracts some professionals — including attorneys — who enjoy working as baristas several evenings a week. She pays $15, offers health benefits, wine education and flexible hours. “I haven’t had trouble finding people,” she says. “We’re highly selective and don’t have a lot of turnover. The people who come, stay.”
— Mark Howard, Executive Editor
Read more in Florida Trend's December issue.
Select from the following options: