Wave of Job-Switching Has Employers on a Training Treadmill

The pandemic’s disruption contributed to a surge in entrepreneurial activity, a key driver of the kind of innovation that could lead to a more productive economy. The dynamics have also spurred many companies to re-evaluate or adapt long-held practices to increase efficiency.

“There’s an enormous amount of experimentation going on right now, and it’s showing up in so many different ways,” said John Haltiwanger, a University of Maryland economist who studies job turnover.

“I think it will be healthy, but not immediately,” he added. “There’s a long-term payoff to this, but it could literally take years, not months, for this to kick in.”

When Rahkeem Morris started the company HourWork several years ago, his goal was to help fast-food companies and other businesses hire more efficiently. But last year, the company pivoted to a new focus: retention.

A fast-food worker typically takes six months to reach full productivity, Mr. Morris said, but at many companies, the typical employee in the industry leaves after just 75 days. HourWork now offers a service to help store owners keep in touch with staff members by text message and to analyze their responses to identify issues that could be causing employees to quit — an approach the company says can reduce turnover, particularly among new hires.

Mr. Morris, who worked in fast food as a teenager before getting degrees from Cornell and Harvard Business School, said companies had long tried to deal with staffing shortages by focusing on recruitment. He likened that approach to trying to fill a leaky bucket — if companies do not also try to keep their workers, no amount of recruiting will solve their problem.

The Great Resignation, however, may finally have led companies to rethink that approach.

“We’re starting to see the tide shift and the sentiment around that change,” Mr. Morris said. “Fixing the leaky-bucket problem will get these restaurants to full productivity.”