Dissatisfied Workers + Recovery = Workforce Planning

COnference BoardEarlier this month The Conference Board released the results of one of its periodic surveys saying less than half of American workers are happy at their job.

Out of 2,900 respondents to the survey, only 45 percent reported being satisfied with their job. In 1987, when the question was first asked, 61 percent reported being satisfied.

By now, the numbers may have changed. The survey was conducted last summer when huge monthly job losses were being reported and the unemployment rate was climbing. I should also point out that the survey is not without its challengers and that the results are at odds with other polls, notably the Gallup and University of Chicago, which found workers much more satisfied with their work.

Still, The Conference Board survey shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. Its other surveys, including the much-watched Consumer Confidence Index, supports the suspicion that many of you have of a general worker malaise. A Salary.com survey released a year ago reported similar, though somewhat less dramatic, results.

Conference board job satisfactionIn any case The Conference Board survey clearly touched a nerve. Since its release there have been hundreds of blog posts mentioning it. And many more discussing a CareerBuilder survey conducted in November and released on Jan. 7 that says 19 percent of workers will jump ship in 2010.

ERE blogger Rob Jannone talked about this a few days ago in a post he headlined “The Mass Exodus of Talent.”

“Halfway through the 1st month of 2010 and a theme emerging in the blogosphere and social media as it relates to Human Capital Management, is that the mass exodus of talent is imminent,” writes Jannone, who goes on to suggest three steps that might help to improve morale and reduce the potential exodus.

There’s one more bit of data to consider: least satisfied with their job are workers under 25 years of age.

What does this mean to recruiters? Depending on which side of the fence you happen to be on at the moment, it can be a boon helping you attract better talent. If you’re the one losing the workers, it means the internal pressure will go up as the remaining staff, already piled on with the workloads of the previously departed, have to cover, if only for “a while.”

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The surveys, and a reading of the blogs and observations by recruiters and HR thought leaders, offers some scenarios for the coming months:

  1. High achievers, your best talent, will be the first to leave since they are in demand. Even now they’re doing their networking due diligence, waiting for the right opportunity to come along. That wasn’t so easy in 2009 when 4.2 million jobs disappeared. But in 2010, with every indication pointing to recovery, opportunities will begin to turn up.
  2. Young workers, many of whom took any job they could find, will bolt when they can. Some may be excelling in the careers they fell into and may stay because they’ve discovered they like it. The majority — 64 percent — are not happy. In such a large percentage inevitably will be good workers, performing well, who you would like to keep.
  3. Older workers who are in the age group typically most satisfied with their jobs, aren’t. They stay because the value of their investments and 401(k)s have fallen so far they can’t afford to retire,; they have fewer options due to age, and are less likely to relocate for work.

The implications of these scenarios, if unchecked and unaddressed, can easily lead to a workforce imbalance with dire consequences. I haven’t seen any of the bloggers predict imminent corporate collapse or anything but a slow, if mass, exodus. However, an incremental workforce change may mask its very effect.

Put those three scenarios together and you get a slow ebb of talent, beginning with the loss of promising young talent first. (Statistically speaking, based on The Conference Board’s demographic breakdown of dissatisfaction.) Simultaneously, top talent will leave. Not all of it, of course. But enough to have a noticeable effect. Finally — and this may be two or three years or more from now — older workers who have recovered financially will retire, taking with them the experience and knowledge that otherwise would have been passed down the line to the up and comers.

How likely is this picture of the workforce future? It is certainly a possibility if you do nothing. And there will be employers who do nothing. They will end up being among those who find themselves having to quickly fill vacancies, if only to keep the phones answered.

For everyone else, take a look at Jannone’s suggestions at the end of his blog post; see how your own workforce compares to the results of The Conference Board survey; and, do some workforce planning with your own scenarios.

John Zappe is the editor of TLNT.com and a contributing editor of ERE.net. John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


6 Comments on “Dissatisfied Workers + Recovery = Workforce Planning

  1. Great post John. I don’t know about imminent; it may be more correlated to economic and job recovery. I think you are right regarding the talent outflow once things return to a more normal situation. Many people I talk with say they are working more hours due to covering the work load of people who were let go. Right now employers have the leverage, but it won’t remain that way forever.

  2. Great article…

    We DO NOT have “dissatisfied workers” we DO HAVE “dissatisfied people” The folks that understand that life is an “inside game” and finding the JOY in ALL things subsequently equals Eternal abundance, which transcends time/space.

    Again, thoroughly enJOYed the article John.. Best Brian-

  3. From my perspective the Conference Board Survey is not far off.

    As an executive recruiter specializing in sourcing and placing Human Resource executives I can tell you that the unrest is rampant. The percentage of professionals I approach, who are open to making a change, hovers around the 30% to 40% range. My passive talent pool is deep and getting deeper. As the economy continues to improve, things will begin to break loose and you will see a substantial increase in job churn.

    Just one woman’s opinion…

  4. John, Thanks for the insights. Were there any indicators listing why there was so much dissatisfaction specifically? I do not have access to the full report as I am not a Conference Board member. Thanks for the additional references. Joe Slevin

  5. You can click into the link in the first paragraph, Joseph, to see the press release, which contains some minor, additional info. The Conference Board also sells the complete report (http://bit.ly/5JRNNj).

    I haven’t seen the complete report. When it comes to proprietary reports, usually all that gets shared is an abstract or an executive summary.

  6. IMSM, usual jobforce turnover is ~20%.

    So, where where will these 19% folks go? Will they be applying for some of the 8,000,000 jobs we’ve lost since June, 2007? Will they be trading positions with other job-leavers?

    Still, churn is good for recruiters- there’s job security in trying to fill a sieve!



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