Half of U.S. Workers Checked Out, Looking to Leave

by Vault Careers | June 21, 2011

  • My Vault

A new report by HR consultancy Mercer, shows that more than half of the current workforce is either actively looking to leave or checked out at work. Which indicates that there's something seriously awry in the corporate world.

Assembly members Hector De La Torre, D-South Gate, left, and Bill Monning, D-Monterey, right, sleep at their desk during an all-night lock down of the Assembly at the Capitol in Sacramento, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 15, 2009. In an effort to get a budget deal, Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, D-Los Angeles, locked down her chamber about 3:30 a.m., forcing lawmakers to remain.

According to the report "Nearly one in three (32%) US workers is seriously considering leaving his or her organization at the present time, up sharply from 23% in 2005. Meanwhile, another 21% are not looking to leave but view their employers unfavorably and have rock-bottom scores on key measures of engagement, a term that describes a combination of an employee's loyalty, commitment and motivation."

So what’s going on?

The obvious answers all relate to the economy. Many employees feel that they're still bearing the brunt of the recession, even as things have settled and a (tepid) recovery has taken hold. Anyone making the same or less than they were three years ago, for example, is likely to be feeling pretty unhappy right about now—especially if they took on extra work.

Additionally, the Mercer report points to cuts in benefit programs and retirement contributions as significant factors in the downturn in employee satisfaction, while "scores for career development and performance management remain low. Just 42% of employees today agree that promotions go to the most qualified employees in their organization, up from 29% in 2005, and 46% agree that their organization does an adequate job of matching pay to performance, up from 33%.""

The solutions for employers, then, should be obvious. According to a Mercer Senior Partner, "Employees see a 'disconnect' between what employers are promising and what they are delivering […] Organizations should re-examine their deals—both the traditional and non-traditional elements—then support them with effective administration and consistent, authentic communication that fosters a sense of belonging and helps employees make better rewards choices and career decisions."

But what about employees? Don't they have a role to play in this? Even if their companies have been taking advantage of the employer's market, don’t they owe those companies something for the paychecks they’ve been receiving while millions of their peers have been struggling to find work of the type and level they're suited for?

Yes and no.

Yes: the company that's paying your wages deserves your time, attention and effort for as long as they're doing so.

But: loyalty is a two-way street. Employees who have watched their companies lay off colleagues and picked up the slack on many of their responsibilities are entitled to feel aggrieved if that extra effort isn't being met with meaningful appreciation--especially at a time when companies are still sitting on massive cash reserves, awaiting an upturn in demand before planning any extra hiring or expansion.

But those same people still need to be careful: while they may be coasting until they can find a new position, there's every chance that they may be stuck in their current positions for a while. And checked-out employees can only go undetected for so long.

So even if you are looking around for a new opportunity, be sure not to let it affect your on-the-job performance. Unless you're looking for the motivation boost that comes with a pink slip and the opportunity to continue your search on a full time basis.

--Phil Stott, Vault.com

Filed Under: Workplace Issues

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