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Most workers who switched jobs earned more, Pew study finds

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A businessman wearing a tie holds a box of office belongings, indicating that he's quitting.

Pay is a highly visible reason people leave one job for another. pcess609/Getty Images

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We know that lots of people left their jobs in the past year. The quits rate, part of the Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, reached highs not seen since the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track in 2000. The latest news on that front will be out on Tuesday. But those government numbers don’t tell us what happens after those workers quit.

A study out Thursday from the Pew Research Center has some insight: It finds the majority of those who switched jobs also saw an increase in earnings. 

Those who study quitting say there are lots of reasons people leave one job for another, but money is a highly visible one. 

“One thing that we can often see in that next job is that it pays more,” said Anthony Klotz, professor of management at University College London, who is credited with coining the term “Great Resignation.” “So we may not know whether we’ll like our next boss or our co-workers, but usually we can figure out the pay pretty easily.”

Pew’s new study finds that 60% of workers who did switch jobs between April 2021 and March 2022 earned more money in their new roles, even when adjusted for inflation. For people who stayed with the same employer, fewer than half saw that increase. 

“So, people staying put in this inflationary environment, they experienced a loss in real earnings,” said Rakesh Kochhar, one of the authors of the report.

The less a job pays, the bigger a difference it makes to the worker. Josh Bersin, an industry analyst who studies human resources, said there’s a kind of “hierarchy of work needs.” 

“At the bottom are things like pay and benefits and health care,” he said. “Once you get enough pay and benefits to keep you happy, then you don’t constantly search for a new job to make more money.”

People who are unhappy in their current jobs should tell their employers what they want, financial or otherwise, Bersin said. Because in a tight labor market, a lot of employers are desperate to hold on to the employees they have. 

Still, it doesn’t always work. Across the Atlantic, Anthony Klotz is now part of the Great Resignation himself. Earlier this year, he moved from Texas A&M to his new position in the United Kingdom. 

“A lot of my move had to do with the pull of London,” Klotz said.

And his case shows that you can be a great employer and lose employees to something completely out of your control.

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