Cost of vacancy: Empty desks are expensive

The balance of power is shifting in the job market. While job seekers are experiencing a golden age, the shortage of qualified workers is making itself known in companies’ books.

For months, the number of open job positions has been breaking all records. And the results of a survey from the ifo Institute indicate that the adverse effects at companies from the staff shortage reached a record high in July. In addition to the scarcity of energy and raw materials, the absence of qualified employees—and lately of employees in general—is the third most serious threat to industrial sites in Germany.

In German mechanical engineering, this affects 43 percent of the organizations surveyed, up from 38.7 percent in April. There isn’t just a lack of mechatronics engineers, mechanics and IT specialists, a shortage of less qualified employees is also emerging.

The latest survey conducted by the Munich Ifo Institute on behalf of the Stiftung Familienunternehmen of 1,700 organizations shows that more than a third consider their competitiveness to be endangered by the shortage of specialist workers, more than half fear breaks in the supply chains and 82 percent record costs for staff replacements as high or very high.

Job offers at a record level

No wonder that job offers are reaching a new peak. For example, the number of jobs on rose by a further 55 percent compared to March 2021, which had already been very strong. And in the coming years, the number of open jobs is expected to further increase, as the working population is shrinking dramatically. In future, the problem will no longer be a lack of employment, but a lack of employees. This is causing a fundamental shift in the balance of power—in employees’ favor.

Expensive lack of employees

Even today companies are recording losses in revenue because of how long it takes them to fill open positions. Rapid recruiting and long-term employee retention will therefore be decisive in securing competitiveness in times of lacking employees.

According to a current StepStone analysis, the average cost of an unfilled position (cost of vacancy) is €29,000. In companies with more than 250 employees, an empty desk can even reach €73,000. It is particularly expensive in the health sector, where the cost of vacancy is around €37,700 on average, followed by IT (€37,300) and marketing (€36,600). Only slightly lower losses are incurred in trade (€32,600) and in production (€30,800).

Unfortunately, the assumption that unfilled positions lead to budget savings is still widespread. But at the end of the day, for every missing employee, a certain proportion of the company’s turnover is lost.

In addition, vacancies disturb the peace in the company as they increase the workload of the workforce. This danger goes underestimated, as a study from StepStone demonstrates. According to this, around 15 million employees in Germany toy with the idea of switching jobs several times a week.