Despite the employment crisis resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of Israeli workers quitting their jobs reached a peak in 2020, according to a study published last week by the Israel Employment Service. According to the study, the rise in the number of worker resignations was noted even among workers earning minimum wage.

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The Israel Employment Service (IES) noted that this is not a new phenomenon but the continuation of a trend going back to 2016 in which low unemployment rates, among other factors, contributed to increased labor demand, giving workers more power to choose their workplace.

Even so, researchers from IES were surprised to see the trend continue throughout the COVID-19 crisis, which saw unemployment rates reach record highs. In 2019 the number of workers quitting their jobs was 29% higher than in 2012. In 2020, however, that number was 107% higher than in 2012, or more than double.


Differences in Resignation Rates Narrowed during Pandemic

The increase of departing workers, while also noted among high-wage earners, was driven primarily by low-wage, unskilled workers of lower socio-economic status – the same groups which had had low rates of quitting in previous years.

University graduates, workers with computer skills, and non-Haredi Jews quit their jobs at a higher rate than workers without an academic degree, workers without computer skills, and Haredi or Arab workers. However, IES noted that the COVID-19 crisis saw the rate of employee resignation rise among disadvantaged groups, while the resignation rate remained the same among more privileged groups.

According to the study, before the onset of COVID-19 digitally unskilled workers were 30% less likely to resign than their digitally skilled colleagues. During the COVID-19 crisis, the gap was reduced to 21%. During the same period, the gap in the likelihoods of workers with college degrees versus those without dropped from 33.5% to 18.3%.

The gap in the tendency of workers in academic professions to resign, as compared to those in non-academic professions, narrowed from 77.8% to 47.2%, and the gap between Arab and non-Haredi Jewish workers narrowed from 77.8% to 47.2%.

The number of quitting workers aged 55 and over rose by 68% throughout the crisis. The rate among workers aged 34 and under rose by 35%, and the rate among workers from age 35 to 54 rose by 22.8%.

Before the COVID-19 crisis, the group of workers most likely to quit was women with children, followed by women without children, men without children, and finally men with children. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, IES noted a change in the trend. Women without children began to quit their jobs at similar, and even lower rates than women with children.


Social Safety Net Enables Workers to Take Short-Term Risks

Although workers who quit their jobs without a legitimate reason must wait three months before becoming eligible for unemployment benefits, IES believes that the rise in the number of resignations in 2020 was related to the policy of extended unpaid leave.

“Many workers preferred not receiving a salary for three months, but afterwards receiving unemployment benefits through June 2021, especially low wage earners for whom there is not much of a gap between their salary and the stipend for which they would be eligible,” explained the researchers.

Outside the Israeli Employment Service offices in Jerusalem. (Photo: Yonatan Sindel / Flash90)

IES estimates that the jump in the number of workers aged 55 and over was driven by a combination of factors, including concern for their health in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside the existence of a security net that enables short-term risk taking.

The researchers also offered a psychological explanation for the increase in resignations. They suggest that it is possible that the trend is partially driven by a breakdown of trust in the employer-employee relationship that many workers experienced in the face of widespread furloughing, as well as by increased stress and fatigue at work due to reduced staff sizes and working from home.

Throughout 2020, many workers may have experienced a decreased sense of involvement with and connection to their workplaces, as well as changes in their personal priorities and new thoughts on their career paths.

Rami Grauer, President of IES, wrote: “The rise in the number of resignations among low wage earners and unskilled workers was enabled by the large-scale extension of eligibility for unemployment benefits up to last July. But not all of them managed to use this opportunity to consider a new career path or to improve their work skills.

“This trend demonstrates the need for improved work skills, especially digital skills, in order to enable the optimal reentry into the job market. Not only in terms of integration, but also, and especially, in terms of persistence and creating opportunities for career advancement and mobility in the job market. I suggest to all job-seekers to make use of the diverse array of programs IES has to offer, whether it is career counseling, personal training, career management workshops, or professional trainings.”