Jan. 23—Kimberly Dion is considering her options.
The Franklin resident lost her job overseeing kitchen operations in November and didn't want to accept a transfer that would have meant driving more miles for less pay.
"Thinking I'm ready for something new," Dion, 61, said during a virtual interview at an online job fair last week.
The pandemic has created an economic climate where more people are acting boldly in reevaluating their work situations — whether that means changing jobs, starting a new business or retiring.
The churning economy has created more headaches for employers to attract and keep employees.
Employment numbers show the restlessness within the state's economy.
New Hampshire saw the nation's largest increase in the rate of people quitting their jobs between October and November, according to federal figures out Friday.
New Hampshire's 4.5% quit rate in November tied with Georgia for highest in the country.
"I think essentially they're voting with their feet," said Mike Somers, president and CEO of the New Hampshire Lodging & Restaurant Association.
"They're being very selective in where they want to work."
New Hampshire ranked first in the nation for the greatest percentage gain in weekly wages for June, rising 10.6% over a year's time. The average weekly wage rose by $129 to $1,345, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Hiring is so difficult that Fujifilm Dimatix in Lebanon started paying three times regular pay to employees working overtime on some shifts.
The City of Lebanon offered to pay $50 an hour — $2,000 a week — to hire four snowplow drivers who hold commercial drivers licenses. One person applied and was hired.
"This is the time to market yourself and if you want to take another opportunity, now is the time to do that," said Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland.
He said the region's hiring woes are "the most difficult time I remember" in 33 years of public service.
Fujifilm Dimatix, a provider of inkjet printheads for commercial and industrial printing, employs close to 500 in Lebanon, with about two-thirds working on-site.
"What we're seeing is people really want flexibility," said Paul Ribeiro, senior director of manufacturing operations.
"I think most people applying for jobs are already employed," he said during the virtual job fair.
People are feeling out whether they can get "either a more flexible job, a better culture or more money," he said.
"From what I see in exit interviews, even at 40 hours, people are saying it's too much," Ribeiro said. "The workforce has changed a lot."
More people are quitting in New Hampshire than in previous years: 25,000 last September, compared to 11,000 a year earlier and 14,000 in September 2019, before the pandemic struck.
"With the increasing quits, it currently looks like that there is an increase in leaving one job for another, being unsatisfied with their current job," said Greg David, an economist with the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau.
There were 32,863 online job postings in the Granite State in November and December, up more than 5,000 from two years ago. In both years, about 20,000 residents were unemployed — meaning there were more jobs than people unemployed.
This past November-December featured more than 9,000 additional job postings than in late 2020.
The industries most hurting to fill jobs remained the same over the past few years. Health care led the way, with more than 4,600 openings each year, followed by retail and manufacturing.
Worsening the worker shortage, fewer people are either working or actively looking for work.
This past November-December saw more than 30,000 fewer people in the labor force than late 2019.
A mismatch between skills employers want and skills certain applicants possess continues to make it difficult to fill some higher-skilled positions, David said.
Those looking for jobs include retirees and people coming from retail jobs or positions with weekend hours, according to Amy Brooks, executive director of Early Care and Education Association.
"I think maybe all of this has made people think about what they really want to do and take a risk, quit their job and start something different," Brooks said.
Wanting to quit
In one survey, 2 in 5 U.S. workers (41%) plan to look for a new job in the first half of 2022, up from 32% six months ago.
More than 1 in 4 (28%) would quit their job without another lined up, according to a job optimism report from staffing agency Robert Half.
"I envision a world (in 2022) where there's still going to be a lot of jobs and staff shortages for companies to hire," said Barry Roy, regional president at Robert Half, which has three New Hampshire offices.
"Wages will continue to be higher than what they were pre-COVID for certain (industries), and there's going to be a competitive arena for talent for those companies looking to hire out there."
Workers looking at switching jobs have various motivations: "Career advancement they can't get in their current company, increased wages or salaries or companies that aren't offering a hybrid ability to work," Roy said.
Before quitting, employers should talk to their current employer about "your future, what that looks like," Roy said.
"The best job for that current employee might be the one they're in," Roy said.
People need to do their research, evaluating their overall compensation package, hybrid opportunities and company culture.
The pandemic has caused many people to reassess their paths.
"For those close to retirement age, they have had an awakening to 'life is short' and rethinking how they want to make the most of the years ahead," said Sandy Demarest, CEO and multigenerational coach of Demarest Directions in Amherst.
"And those not even thinking of retirement, or maybe younger, time to reflect and re-evaluate and want more meaning, purpose and life balance," she said in an email. "Something they have thought about but more conscious thoughts, and choices are at the forefront."
People planning to retire aren't looking only to sit around in front of the television.
"They are looking for other purpose — starting businesses — but maybe something small, with more flexibility in a job. What are they looking for in organizations is not a fancy coffee machine, or working at home, but want to be seen and heard and truly engaged in what they are doing," Demarest said. "Meaning and fulfillment become more important."
Child care headaches
Many parents continue grappling with who will watch their children while working — and whether it makes sense to work.
"Child care is truly a crisis" in the Upper Valley, Lebanon's Mulholland said.
"We have child care centers that are closing. Infant care is almost impossible to get," he said. "It's not a matter of cost. It's just not available, no matter what the price point is."
Mulholland heads a working group that is trying to put together solutions by assembling businesses, government leaders and others through a project by Vital Communities, a nonprofit just over the Vermont border that works on regional issues.
Effective this month, the city of Lebanon is offering a parental leave program, providing up to 12 weeks of paid time off for new parents. A half-dozen workers already could qualify, Mulholland said.
"Younger employees say, 'I don't know if I can afford to have a child,' " said Mulholland, who is working to retain one potential future mother by making her work schedule more flexible should she have a child.
Times are tough, said the child care association's Brooks.
"We are operating at reduced capacity and reduced operating hours due to staffing shortages," at some child care centers, she said.
Brooks likes the innovative regional approach to develop more child care options.
"I think attacking and being a bi-state region in the Upper Valley, I think it gives some direction to the solutions and it gets more people on board," Brooks said.
Hype over quitting
"The 'Great Resignation' Was Predictable," wrote Brian Gottlob, director of the state Economic and Labor Market Information Bureau in a private blog post.
The rate of quitting in New Hampshire, he said, has trended higher over the past decade, with Baby Boomers reaching retirement and young workers changing and quitting jobs more often.
"Millennials have done even more job hopping than prior generations," Gottlob said.
"Record high quit rates have received a lot of attention, and have been the subject of much concern and debate over causes," he wrote before November's numbers were released.
"However, as the data here suggest, quit rates are not that far above their longer-term trend and are fairly predictable, implying that perhaps the narrative that there is a fundamental re-evaluation of workplaces, and of what workers want, is at least somewhat overstated."
What's Working, a series exploring solutions for New Hampshire's workforce needs, is sponsored by the New Hampshire Solutions Journalism Lab at the Nackey S. Loeb School of Communications and is funded by Eversource, Fidelity Investments, the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, the New Hampshire College & University Council, Northeast Delta Dental and the New Hampshire Coalition for Business and Education.