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Job-hopping on the rise in Switzerland

Co-author of the report, Dr Fred Henneberg

Swiss workers are increasingly changing jobs. At least 10 per cent of the workforce switched jobs last year alone.

The phenomenon, known as fluctuation, has proved expensive for the economy. It is the subject of a recent study by the Labour Research Group at the University of St Gallen.

An estimated 342,000 people changed jobs last year. Fluctuation levels are more prevalent in some areas of the economy than others. Above average rates are seen in the tourism industry, as well as the real estate sector, transport, construction, financial, chemical and metallurgical industries. The lowest rate is experienced by the public sector.

“One can identify two main reasons for fluctuation,” says Dr. Alfonso Sousa-Poza, co-author of the report, “A positive reason is that workers are simply looking for a new challenge, while on the negative side, others are dissatisfied with their working conditions.”

Voluntary change

Around 60 per cent of job changes are voluntary, say the report’s authors.

Although some level of economic fluctuation in the form of job changing is desirable, the report says it is difficult to calculate an optimal rate.

But it says the factors prompting people to move are almost certainly costing the economy dearly.

“A substantial amount of people cite unhappiness with their current job as a reason for moving on and that is probably an indicator of the high costs involved in job-to-job mobility,” says Sousa-Poza.

Furthermore, Switzerland has an above average rate of fluctuation when compared with other countries.

Although job mobility is higher in Anglo Saxon economies such as the United States, Canada and Britain, Switzerland’s European neighbours like Germany and Italy have lower rates.

The report from St Gallen University also tried to identify the type of worker most likely to move on.

Moving on

“What we noticed first of all is that younger, unmarried workers are more likely to change jobs,” explains Sousa-Poza.

“We also noticed that tenure has a strong effect on mobility and that the longer workers have been with a firm, the less likely they are to change. And education plays a part too – higher educated and lower educated people are most likely to leave.”

He adds that those with lower levels of training are more likely to be unhappy with their lot, while the best educated are simply likely to have more opportunities.

The economic downturn is a double-edged sword.

Many workers are forced to look for work in other companies or sectors of the economy as they are laid off. But others knuckle down in their present jobs as employment becomes harder to find.

But fluctuation rates are on the rise in Switzerland; they gathered pace throughout the nineties when the economy was enduring rough seas. In 1997, around 8.8 per cent of the workforce changed jobs, while the latest figure shows a rise to 10.2 per cent.

Although there are many reasons why people become unhappy at work, employers need to be mindful of two in particular.

“We notice that people with a low wage are more likely to leave,” says Sousa-Poza, “so employers have to make sure they are paying a market wage. And we notice that overtime, especially if uncompensated, also increases the probability of fluctuation.”

A third factor growing in importance is the flexibility of working hours, says Sousa-Poza.

Women in particular because of their dual responsibilities but a growing number of men as well want to choose when they work and to work less too if they so wish.

The report says this flexibility on the part of employers may in the future be the key to attracting and maintaining a happy and successful workforce.

by Michael Hollingdale

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR