As the job market picks up, many people who've been toiling in stressful or underpaid jobs will look to move on. And for good reason: Even...

Share story

SAN FRANCISCO — As the job market picks up, many people who’ve been toiling in stressful or underpaid jobs will look to move on.

And for good reason: Even though the economy has been creating jobs, many are less than desirable. Workers’ willingness to persevere in those difficult environments may have reached its breaking point.

Any job can impel a worker to look for greener pastures if the boss is a brute, pay meager or recognition infrequent, career experts say.

But low-skilled, repetitive and stressful jobs with lots of customer contact for paltry pay are especially vulnerable to turnover, said Peter LeBlanc, senior vice president of Sibson Consulting, a Raleigh, N.C., firm that specializes in human resources.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

“People put in these roles are expected to handle high call volume or high customer volume, whether they work at Burger King … or at call centers where customers are calling in with complaints or questions,” LeBlanc said.

“The lower the pay, the more likely it is people will say ‘I won’t take this aggravation. I can find something with less stress for the same or more money,’ ” he LeBlanc said, noting many of his clients refer to these as pink-collar jobs.

“A lot of these jobs are occupied by women. They’re second jobs for them, low paying.”

Indeed, lower-skilled, lower-wage jobs historically have higher turnover rates than white-collar jobs, said Steve Pogorzelski, president of Monster North America, which operates job-search Web site Monster.com.

“We’re also beginning to see higher turnover rates in some traditionally highly skilled, white-collar jobs, especially sales,” he said.

The following is a list of 10 occupations that generate the most turnover, according to trade groups and human-resource experts.

Fast-food workers

The likelihood of turnover rises substantially if a job entails asking, “Do you want fries with that?” said Bill Coleman, senior vice president of compensation at Salary.com.

Quick-service food joints that get you in and out on the cheap generally don’t keep workers for long, he said.

Many of them earn the federal minimum wage, which has been frozen at $5.15 since 1997.

“You rarely see the same people there,” Coleman said. “They just don’t stick it out. They get an extra 25 cents an hour to work across the street and they do it because that extra 25 cents an hour makes a difference.”

Low-level retail jobs

Stores constantly have to staff the floors, and the trend has been moving toward doing so with more part-timers, said Daniel Butler, vice president of retail operations for the National Retail Federation, the world’s largest retail trade group.

While retailers measure turnover differently, Butler said, the average for part-time positions is about 100 to 110 percent for a full year, while full-time positions have about 60 percent turnover.

The figure represents the percentage of the staff replaced in a year; over 100 percent means all positions have been refilled more than once in a year on average.

Meter readers

Parking is the bane of many urban dwellers’ existence. Nothing can set them off like a costly ticket left by a vigilant meter reader, making working conditions less than optimal.

“There aren’t a lot of jobs where there are bumper stickers with people saying they hate you,” Coleman said, referring to one with the message “Meter maids eat their young.”

The job also rates low on prestige, pay and other social considerations that set workers up for burnout, said Gregory Smith, president of Chart Your Course International, a management-development firm in Atlanta.

“They’re off by themselves,” Smith said. “There’s not a big support structure.”

Nurses

With many hospitals facing a critical shortage, nurses are in demand, giving them more leverage to jump jobs.

Almost 15 percent of registered nurses will leave their jobs by next year, said Carol Cooke, spokeswoman for the American Nurses Association, which represents 150,000 RNs.

The turnover rate for licensed practical nurses is slightly higher at 19 percent, she said.

“That’s a pretty high turnover rate,” Cooke said. “You do have nurses going to other [nursing] jobs, but you also have nurses fed up with the work environment and quitting to go into other professions altogether.”

Of 2.7 million RNs nationwide, about 2.2 million are working. While most still work in hospitals, some are moving away from the bedside into research, health insurance and administration, Cooke said.

Child-care workers

Despite all the claimed support for “family values” in the United States, child-care workers are notoriously low paid and tough to keep. They earn $20,020 per year on average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Recent turnover figures suggest 30 percent of those caring for children under age 5 will leave their jobs this year, said Marci Young, director of the Center for the Child Care Workforce, a project of the American Federation of Teachers Education Foundation.

An estimated 2.5 million Americans tend to kids under age 5, about a quarter of whom work in child-care centers.

The high turnover rate is a concern for their charges as well for the employees, Young said. “Children learn best when they’re in relationships that are stable and consistent,” she said.

Accountants and auditors

Some accountants and auditors have become emboldened by companies’ need to comply with laws designed to prevent corporate-accounting schemes akin to those at Enron, leading more to pursue higher salaries and better work arrangements elsewhere, Pogorzelski said.

“Companies have to provide much more data in their accounts than ever before.”

Customer service

Getting barked at all day long can take a toll. Telemarketers and customer-service representatives often have to deal with client rage, constant rejection or both.

Workers who spend their days “trying to calm people down who are unhappy with their service” are especially prone to switch careers even though the pay can be considerable, said John Challenger, a Chicago outplacement firm’s chief executive.

Some telemarketing and telesales workers earn $50,000 to $100,000 a year in base salary and commissions compared with $250,000 and up for sales reps selling big-ticket items, Pogorzelski said.

Movie-theater employees

Concessionaires and ticket takers put a human face on the increasingly impersonal movie experience. But the jobs are typically low-paying, entry-level ones, which drives a lot of turnover at the popcorn and candy counter, Coleman said.

“It sounds like a good job,” he said. “You get to see all the movies you want to for free, but you don’t get paid well, and seeing movies for free isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.”

Hospitality workers

Jobs in the $105 billion hotel industry are plentiful, but entry-level work and varied schedules that can include overnight and weekend shifts keep the revolving door spinning, said Joe McInerney, president of the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“We’re going to need [to fill] about 700,000 jobs at the entry level and above in our industry in the next 10 years just because of attrition, new properties being built,” he said.

Salespeople

Those who are employed hawking goods and services may be in a strong position to leap to a better-paying gig as the job market improves.

Demand for sales professionals has risen over the past 13 months in the Monster employment index, Pogorzelski said.

“We think that’s a reflection of business leaders feeling more confident about their products and increasing their sales forces,” he said. “That creates demand that benefits people in those occupations.”

The reason for the high turnover is that a skilled salesperson can sell almost any product, meaning the number of potential employers is vast and the lure of better money elsewhere strong.