Turnover Trends in Douglas County

by Henry Fields

November 4, 2022

As difficult as it has been to attract new workers during the tight labor market of the last several years, employers can’t ignore another key factor for workforce health: retention. The most successful job recruitment is one that never has to open in the first place, after all.

However, with recent wage increases, inflation, and fierce competition for workers, employers face additional challenges getting workers to stay compared to years past. The number of people voluntarily quitting their job each month has remained at elevated levels of nearly 3% since mid-2021, the highest levels seen in several decades.

Here in Douglas County we have access to quarterly turnover data for different company sizes and industries. Looking at trends in these rates in the past 30 years is instructive for the current moment.
Graph showing turnover rate by size of firm, Douglas County private firms, second quarter of each year

From 1992 to the Great Recession in 2008, quarterly turnover declined each year, especially at the smallest businesses. The lowest rate for most sizes of businesses was in 2009, when the nation was in the depth of a difficult recession. The sparsity of job opportunities made workers especially unlikely to leave if they still had one.

We saw steady increases in turnover during the course of the 2010s, likely reflecting the improving economy. 2020 saw significant declines in turnover, as the COVID-19 recession took hold and economic uncertainty led those who kept their job to put off leaving. 2021 led to a substantial increase, largely returning to the pre-COVID trend and making up for lost time. Even in 2021, however, turnover rates are significantly lower for most types of businesses than in the early 1990s.

In Douglas County, as in the nation, turnover is highest among small businesses. It’s unlikely that small businesses are inherently less attractive places to work. There are probably many contributing factors, such as the fact that small establishments are more concentrated in high turnover industries such as restaurants and retail.

The largest employers, those with 500 or more employees, have comparatively lower turnover rates over the long term. However, unlike in smaller businesses, turnover is now higher at large employers than it was in 1992.

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