The number of people leaving their main job between April and June 2011 was 674,000, a drop of 42% on the 1998 peak of 1.17 million, analysis from the Office for National Statistics reveals.
This decline suggests that the UK labour market is less dynamic now than in the past. Of those who left in April-June 2011, 57% chose to leave voluntarily - for example by resigning - and 43% were made to leave involuntarily, for example by being made redundant.
Looking at the percentage of workers who left their jobs in the April-June period, 2.4% of all workers in the workforce left their main job in 2011, down from 4.5% in 1998. Over this period, the proportion of workers leaving their jobs voluntarily has generally declined (from 3.1% in 1998 to 1.4% in 2011), but those leaving involuntarily declined only slowly (from 1.4% in 1998 to 0.9% in 2008) then peaked at 1.4% in 2009. This was in fact the same rate as for voluntary departures in that year, the only time in this period where involuntary departures equalled voluntary ones.
The recession had a greater impact on the rate of people leaving their job in the private than in the public sector. The percentage of private sector workers leaving their job voluntarily fell sharply (from 3.2% in April-June 2004 to 1.7% in 2009), while those leaving involuntarily rose during the recession (from 1.1% in 2004 to 1.8% in 2009).
In contrast, there was little change in the percentage of public sector workers leaving their main job during the recession, either voluntarily or involuntarily. In the time since the end of the recession, the percentage of public sector workers made to leave their job has doubled, from 0.5% in April-June 2009 to 1.0% in 2011, while the percentage of those in the public sector choosing to leave fell slightly, from 1.1% to 1.0% over the same period.
People in younger age groups were more likely than those in older age groups to leave their main job. In April-June 2011, 4.7% of those aged 16 to 24 left their main job, compared with 2.8% of those aged 25 to 34, 1.9% of those aged 35 to 49, and 1.8% of those aged 50 to 64.
Responding to the findings in his address at the CIPD Conference in Manchester, John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the CIPD, said: "The ONS figures on the trend in job exits since the late 1990s parallel findings from the annual CIPD labour turnover surveys, which shows a modest decline in both quit rates (i.e. workers leaving jobs voluntarily) and firing rates (including redundancies) prior to the recession in 2008, followed by a sharp fall in the quit rate and a sharp rise in the redundancy rate.
"On the basis of a comparison between 1998 and 2011, the ONS concludes that the overall decline in the exit rate from 4.5% to 2.4% suggests that the UK labour market is less dynamic than in the past. However, this comparison is slightly misleading since the period in question begins at a time when the UK economy was expanding rapidly and heading toward full employment and ends with the economy struggling to recover from a major recession.
"It is therefore the economy not the labour market that is less dynamic in 2011 than 1998.
"What is intriguing is that quit rates fell at all during the long boom from the late 1990s prior to the recession, especially in the private sector. The opposite might have been expected with employers competing for staff in the tight labour market conditions of the time and eager to poach talent. The apparent paradox is explained in CIPD surveys, which show increasing employer emphasis on staff retention strategies during the boom, encompassing both financial and non-financial improvements in working conditions. The ONS figures would suggest that employers became gradually more successful at retaining staff as the boom progressed."
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