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Studies It’s the Fall of Our Employees’ Discontent

Two reports released November 17 put hard numbers on the degree to which workers today are discontented in the wake of company decisions to cut staff, freeze salaries and take other steps during the recession of the past year.

September 16, 2011
Related Topics: Wages and Hours, Retention, Latest News
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Employees—including executives—are just itching to leave their jobs for greener pastures.

Two reports released Tuesday, November 17, put hard numbers on the degree to which workers today are discontented in the wake of company decisions to cut staff, freeze salaries and take other steps during the recession of the past year.

Sixty percent of employees intend to leave their firms as the economy improves next year and an additional 27 percent are networking or have updated their résumés, according to a survey of 904 workers in North America by advisory firm Right Management.

What’s more, a study of 1,627 employed executives from consulting firm Finnegan Mackenzie and business network ExecuNet found that more than 90 percent of executives would take an executive recruiter’s call and more than 50 percent are looking for a new job.

“Employees are clearly expressing their pent-up frustration with how they have been treated through the downturn,” Douglas Matthews, president of Right Management, said in a statement. “While employers may have taken the necessary steps to streamline operations to remain viable, it appears many employees may have felt neglected in the process. The result is a disengaged and disgruntled workforce.”

The ExecuNet/Finnegan Mackenzie study found that professionals at all levels of management are misjudging the percentage of direct reports interested in pursuing new opportunities. Accountability for executive retention also appears to be missing, with only 6 percent of CEOs reporting that losing a top executive would hurt their pay or bonus, the study discovered.

“Many companies took their eye off retention during the recent recession,” Mark Anderson, president of ExecuNet, said in a statement. “With hiring at the top of the employment market stabilizing, now is the time to refocus on retention, as the direct and indirect costs of losing high-performing executives can quickly derail corporate growth.” 

The reports come on the heels of other research showing that employee engagement levels have dipped during the past year or so. In September, Workforce Management conducted a survey of about 525 readers at firms with 1,000 or more employees. Roughly 45 percent of respondents reported that engagement had decreased a little or a lot at their organization since the recession began. Nearly 27 percent said engagement had stayed the same, and 28 percent said it had increased.

A May survey by consulting firm Watson Wyatt Worldwide of 1,300 workers at large U.S. employers found that engagement levels for top performers fell close to 25 percent year over year. Employees overall experienced a 9 percent drop in engagement year over year, Watson Wyatt said.

Companies say they’re aware of a looming defection problem. And many companies plan in the coming months to reverse cost-cutting moves, such as unfreezing salaries.

But some experts say a broader renewal of the bond between employer and employee is needed. In the aftermath of a recession that has heightened economic insecurities for many Americans and undermined trust in business, there are calls for steps such as a stronger commitment to training opportunities and increased transparency.

—Ed Frauenheim

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