Another Great Resignation Record

Some 4.5 million Americans quit their jobs in November, the most in a single month. Why firms’ retention efforts aren’t working. 

It was as if each day in November 150,000 Americans told their bosses that they were resigning. 

In total, there were more than 4.5 million quits in November, the highest recorded for one month since the US government began tracking the statistic in 2000. Meanwhile, there were 10.6 million available positions, lower than October’s 11.1 million figure but still near a record high, according to the US government’s monthly Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, or JOLTS.

The statistics, released this week, are a reminder that the Great Resignation continues at an unprecedented pace and that companies remain desperate for talent. To be sure, firms have upped retention efforts, but they haven’t found ways to stop the acute exodus. “It’s a new normal right now,” says Deepali Vyas, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the firm’s FinTech, Payments & Crypto practice.

Interestingly, the regional resignation breakdown remains a mystery for most HR officials. The nation’s South remains the quitting capital, with the highest number of departures — nearly 1.9 million. The next highest region is the Midwest, with 1 million quits, followed by the Northwest, which had 670,000. For the year through November, there have been more than 40 million instances of workers quitting. (The government has yet to report the figure for December.)

To stem the tide of quits, companies are primarily using cash. For frontline workers, businesses have been raising minimum wages significantly, while at the executive level, companies have been offering seven-figure retention bonuses to keep talent. The situation is reminiscent of the internet-fueled job market of the late 1990s, says Linda Hyman, Korn Ferry’s senior vice president of global human resources. Back then, tech companies, flush with either venture-capital money or high stock-market valuations, were throwing money at candidates, and companies in other industries were compelled to follow suit to stay competitive.  

But experts continue to question this approach, saying that money alone will not stop employees from looking elsewhere. Numerous leisure and hospitality firms have raised their salaries this year, for example, but that didn’t stop more than 1 million Americans from quitting their jobs in that industry in November. “It’s never just about money,” says Elise Freedman, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and leader of the Workplace Transformation practice. “It’s about the broader ecosystem, including the company’s purpose, the culture, and the relationship with managers.”

Experts say workers want to play a more active role in career development, and companies helping them with that goal might convince more of them to stay. Christian Hasenoehrl, a Korn Ferry senior client partner and global leader for consumer and industrial accounts, says some firms have created learning centers, courses, and other tools so workers can self-direct themselves on a career path. That, however, might not be enough. “Career development is not transparent at many companies,” Hasenoehrl says.