Job Discontent

Moderated by Rick Badie

A recent survey of 700 U.S. companies found that four out of five workers are unhappy with their current positions. A majority, 86 percent, plan to look for new positions come 2013; others have already started the hunt. What’s an employer to do? Our guest columnist examines the reasons behind worker discontent, while another writer suggests steps employers can take to mitigate the malaise.

Job discontent unprecedented

By Owen J. Sullivan

For the fourth year in a row, most workers are expressing their intentions to seek new employment, according to Right Management’s most recent poll of more than 700 U.S. employees.

Eighty-six percent said they plan to look for new positions in 2013; another 8 percent said they may do so and are already networking. Only 5 percent intend to stay in their current positions, according to the survey. The new findings are remarkably similar to those of the past two years.

At a minimum, the findings are a sign of considerable job dissatisfaction across North America rather than an absolute forecast of projected turnover. The constant drumbeat of downsizing, coupled with the increase in responsibilities without proper compensation or job promotion, has put added stress on workers. These factors, combined with ongoing economic uncertainty and volatility around job growth and job security, have warranted exploration of new positions. This kind of frustration may not be unusual, even in a strong job market, but the levels of discontent we are now finding have to be without precedent.

The survey is a barometer of sorts. Our findings should be seen as a way to gauge worker satisfaction as well as job commitment. Now that we have a few years of consistent longitudinal data, we are confident that our data are reliable. What we are finding is what behavioral psychologists call “flight cognition,” a wish to depart a situation, not necessarily an indicator of actual employee turnover. Nevertheless, when more than four out of five workers seem so unhappy, it ought to concern top management.

The findings may also reflect the continuous job hunt. With so many job boards and constant social networking, workers appear to have convinced themselves that they are truly job hunting when all they are doing is surfing the Internet. Internet job boards can be compared to window shopping, something to do during a down moment. A real job search, which is a much more serious proposition, requires a deliberate and concerted effort to make a change. However, the constant access and push and pull of the Internet and job boards make it easier to shift a window shopper into a buyer.

Addressing the discontent may certainly be difficult in a down economy, but senior leaders need to show they are up to the challenge. Employees want leaders to understand the issues and empathize with them. Beyond the basics, leaders must set a clear path forward with an honest degree of optimism but a realistic game plan. It is important to communicate with employees that the tough decisions being made are to position the firm to be more competitive and sustainable in the future.

Management needs to be proactive when retaining top performers, who may be the first to get competitive job offers. These people always have career options. It is a manager’s job to know who these workers are, to let them know they are valued and to tune in to their individual motivations to hold onto them.

Do not wait. Have open and transparent conversations about the realities of the business to allay any fears and uncertainties. Provide workers with feedback on what they are doing really well and ways to help them improve. A mentoring relationship between manager and employee will build mutual trust and, it is hoped, limit future defections.

Owen J. Sullivan is president of Manpower Group Specialty Brands and CEO of Right Management, a workforce consulting group.

Get your employeens to stay

By Peter Barron Stark

Most of the managers and supervisors we work with tell us that improving morale is one of their biggest challenges. They are running lean staffs. Everyone, from CEOs to employees, are being required to do more with less. In this scenario, both managers and employees end up feeling burnt out, undervalued and underpaid. To top it off, many employees are hesitant to speak up for fear they will be let go.

Most likely, the economy will continue to grow in 2013, and your employees will have more employment options than in the past five years. The November 2012 report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed an increase of 146,000 jobs. With the employment gates beginning to open, which way will your employees run?

There is good news. Although a recent study by Right Management stated that 86 percent of employees intend to actively seek a new positions, our Peter Barron Stark Cos. data collected from companies that conduct ongoing employee engagement surveys tell us there is hope for employers. When we ask employees if their company offers the kind of job they will want three years from now, seven out of 10 respond positively.

How do you get your employees to want to stay?

The following tips will help you keep morale high and loyalty strong so that when employees have a choice, they will stay, not stray.

Communicate, communicate, communicate: Establish a clear, positive vision, along with roles and goals for every employee. Even when the news isn’t good or you don’t have the answer, honestly communicate with your employees on an ongoing basis.

Ask questions and listen: Make sure communication is not only top-down, but from the bottom up. Conduct an employee engagement or opinion survey. Ask employees what they think, listen to their responses, and then take action. Let them know how you used their input.

Provide autonomy: In theory, if you’ve hired good talent, they should be able to do their jobs without a lot of hands-on support from you. Give people enough distance to do their jobs in the way they think will best accomplish their goals.

Recognize team members: Whole books have been written on the importance of recognition as a morale booster. Customized, individual recognition given by a leader to one or more employees for a specific accomplishment is a much more effective morale booster than organized, institutionalized recognition programs.

Peter Barron Stark is president of Peter Barron Stark Cos., a management consulting firm.

12 comments Add your comment


December 27th, 2012
10:17 am

I’ve been fortunate during the past 3 years to have an awesome job with good pay and benefits. But I previously worked for a company that did all kinds of crazy things to it’s employees when the recession hit. The message coming from the management pool was basically that you were lucky to have a job at all, so here is some more work that has to get done, no matter how long it takes you to do it. No raises, no training, decline in benefits, no half days off on Christmas Eve (of coarse management still got their annual bonus). That works when employees are unable to find jobs somewhere else, but when that tide changes, these type companies will reap what they sewn. Simple as that.


December 27th, 2012
9:56 am

Whirled Peas, you sound like a member of the “I got mine, too bad for you” crowd…just curious, are you a baby boomer or older?

Did you read my post? You don’t think it’s possible that the reward for work “has become rather thin”?