There’s a line in the movie Kindergarten Cop that goes something like this… “Kindergarten is like the ocean. You never want to turn your back on it.” In other words, if you’re not paying attention, you’re liable to get knocked flat by a wave that seems to have come out of nowhere.

Well, the labor market can be like that, too.

According to research released by Mercer in the fall of 2015, nearly 40% of U.S. employees are considering leaving their current employers. What’s most ironic about this is that among those seriously considering leaving their jobs, nearly half of them report high satisfaction levels with their organization, their jobs, their pay and benefits. This paradox is even more chilling when considering the ranks of senior managers – those employees for whom considerable time and resources have been devoted to developing their careers. This group reports extremely high satisfaction with their organizations (94% satisfied or very satisfied), but is also the most likely to leave (three out of five).

This isn’t just a trend that’s developing. It’s already happening. The Wall Street Journal reported in an last month that the number of voluntary job terminations in December of 2015 was 3.1 million – the highest level in almost ten years. New hires that same month also hit a post-recession high of 5.4 million. Good employees are much more likely to quit if they feel there’s someplace else for them to go, and that’s exactly what appears to be happening. The momentum that has been bubbling beneath the surface now appears to be cresting and is liable to crash down hard on unsuspecting employers who aren’t paying attention.

Some of this ‘churn’ may be inevitable, with a workforce that grows increasingly mobile. But failing to contain it as much as possible is going to cost employers in productivity, employee morale, profitability and competitiveness.

Benefits can play an important role in minimizing the consequences of high voluntary turnover.

Millennials and GenXers make up the two fastest growing segments of the workforce. But many baby boomers are staying “on the job” much longer than before and, as such, employers are grappling with generational motivations more diverse than they’ve ever been.

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"Employers, together with their advisers, need to analyze their workforce and then find out from employees through whatever means possible what’s working for them and what isn’t."

Not surprisingly, base pay ranks as the most important component of the “value proposition” for all generations, but beyond that, differences begin to show through. Older workers value the type of work they do, the kind of organization they work for and some form of retirement plan. Younger workers value flexible work schedules and career advancement. Most employers have known for a while now that the days of “one size fits all” benefits are long gone. Knowing it and addressing it, though, are two different things.

Employers, together with their advisers, need to analyze their workforce and then find out from employees through whatever means possible what’s working for them and what isn’t. What’s helping to motivate them and what’s not really delivering proper value. Who’s vulnerable and who isn’t. Then act on what you learn.

The wave is coming. Don’t turn your back on it.

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George Lane

George Lane

Lane is a principal and client manager in the Washington, DC office of Mercer.