American workers have quit quitting, for now

A recent study of working adults found 73% were satisfied at work. PHOTO: MATT GENOVESE FOR WSJ
A recent study of working adults found 73% were satisfied at work. PHOTO: MATT GENOVESE FOR WSJ


The job-hopping frenzy of the pandemic years has given way to what some economists are calling the “big stay.”

Americans aren’t as restless in their jobs as they were a couple of years ago.

Numerous surveys show that fewer U.S. adults are currently seeking to leave their roles, compared with the job-switching frenzy of the pandemic years. Other data suggest job satisfaction is rising, and in interviews, formerly job-hopping workers say they’re content with the balance they’ve struck in the positions they have.

Those who are tempted to make a jump face a tightening job market and shrinking pay premium for switching jobs, federal data show.

“Applying for jobs right now, it’s like hitting your head against the wall," says Heather Sundell, a director of social strategy and copywriting in Los Angeles.

The current mood is a turn from recent years, when a red-hot labor market helped spur a wave of quits among American workers, or the “great resignation."

So different is the current mood that some labor economists have dubbed it the “big stay."

Sundell, 39, spent more than a year scouting new roles and says she got a single interview before landing her current position last October. She likes her company and colleagues and isn’t eager to revisit the dispiriting online job-application process, where artificial intelligence and other software often determine which résumés rise to the top.

Sundell, a mother to two small children and a doctoral student studying organizational psychology, also says it would be tough to find the same kind of flexible, collegial work environment she now enjoys.

“If you say ‘Hey, I have to go pick up my kids’ and no one bats an eye, it’s like you’re trusted to be autonomous," she says.

Blooming where they’re planted

A poll from April shows that 35% of U.S. adults plan to look for another job in the second half of this year, down from 49% a year ago, according to Robert Half, the workplace consulting and recruiting firm. Of 1,000 workers polled, 77% said they were happy with their jobs and 85% reported a good work-life balance.

“People feel really satisfied with their compensation and they are very happy with their flexibility, which are two big drivers," says Dawn Fay, Robert Half’s operational president.

Another recent study of 2,800 working adults by MetLife found 73% were satisfied at work, up from 69% a year ago.

The number of U.S. workers who quit their jobs in one month peaked at 3% in April 2022, according to Labor Department data, prompting many employers to boost salaries, give more time off and offer flexible schedules in an attempt to retain talent. Since then the U.S. rate of quitting has drifted below prepandemic levels to 2.2%, where it has held steady so far this year.

Changing jobs doesn’t pay like it used to

The lower quits rate comes alongside a white-collar job slowdown and shriveling pay for new hires.

Two summers ago, job switchers got a median pay bump of 8.5% for making the leap, compared with a 5.9% raise for those who stayed at their jobs, according to the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s wage tracker. As of March, job switchers were commanding a median 5.2% jump in pay, while job stayers were getting 4.5%.

“It lines up with where confidence in the labor market is at this point, and that makes sense because the hiring rate is slowing," says Brett Ryan, a senior U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities.

Job postings on hiring website Indeed have steadily fallen over the past year, making the prospect of jumping ship to a new company harder, says Svenja Gudell, Indeed’s chief economist.

“There’s just less out there," Gudell says. “Employers don’t have to work as hard to attract talent. Wage growth has cooled, so you’re less likely to be enticed to switch jobs. There’s a little bit of that ‘I’m gonna sit pretty here for a while.’"

In interviews and on social media, workers also say they are opting to stay put rather than face multiple interview rounds that can end in ghosting by recruiters and HR managers. That’s if they’re able to engage with anybody at all, given how automated the application process is for many jobs.

The shift in sentiment is even more stark among younger workers. Gen Zers planning to look for a new job in the second half of 2024 fell to 44%, down from 74% last year, according to the research from Robert Half. Millennials planning to find new jobs dropped to 45%, from 63%.

Colleen Holleran of Binghamton, N.Y., says her salary, which was less than $50,000, was the main reason she left her second postcollege job in April 2022. The search engine optimization analyst role she landed came with a 66% raise and the ability to work remotely. About a year later, her company promoted her to senior analyst and raised her salary by nearly a quarter. The 26-year-old is expecting another big raise this year, too.

“For me, that’s steady, sustainable and fair," she says. “I’m not actively looking to jump."

Holleran’s employer is small, which also gives her chances to take on stretch assignments and expand her skill set. Recruiters still reach out, but Holleran says none are offering the combination of salary, flexibility and learning and development that she’s getting where she already works.

What could entice her to a new role? She says, “It would take an offer that is over or near 50% of what I am currently making for me to really entertain the idea of leaving."

Write to Ray A. Smith at

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