Waiting to exhale Featured

9:55am EDT August 20, 2004
Despite recent news reports that the economy is springing back to life, four years of economic downturn have left American workers and their bosses wary and cautious.

Findings from Randstad North America's annual workplace survey, the 2004 Employee Review, indicate that both employers and employees seem to be "making do" at work. Employees have adopted a survivor attitude -- they're resigned to the status quo and are willing to do whatever it takes to hang on to their jobs. But when job openings become more plentiful, things could change.

Eighty-eight percent of employees say people are staying in jobs they hate just to have work. Compensation is a concern for many employees. Slightly less than half of workers ages 59 and older are satisfied with their pay, and that feeling decreases with an employee's age. Forty-four percent of baby boomers ages 40 to 58 are satisfied with their salaries; that falls to 37 percent of Gen X workers ages 25 to 39 and 24 percent of Gen Y workers ages 18 to 24.

Nevertheless, most employees have no immediate plans to switch jobs. Fifty-six percent of workers say now isn't a good time to look for a new job that pays more, and 53 percent don't think it's time to look for more interesting or fulfilling work.

Employees are willing to hang tough right now, waiting for their company's business to improve or the economy to pick up to the point that there are more and better jobs available. When that happens, the status quo may be turned upside down.

Until then, American workers have rolled up their sleeves and kept their shoulders to the grindstone. Forty-seven percent of employees now say there's no such thing as a 9-to-5 job anymore, and seven in 10 say you have to work late or put in overtime to get ahead. Nevertheless, six in 10 say they're satisfied with the hours they work.

While the boss still seems to have the upper hand, power in the workplace isn't totally one-sided. Workers know they're producing at historically high levels and are needed by their employers, and they're content to wait for an uptick in hiring and then see what their employers offer to encourage them to stay put.

Employees' unsatisfied needs and desires may become bigger issues for companies to rectify as jobs become more plentiful. Managers are well-advised to take the time now to institute programs and policies that show how much the company values its employees.

Over the past five years, Employee Review research has shown that employees want more information about the company's progress. They expect to be involved in decisions that impact the company and want management to be more responsive to issues that have real value in their day-to-day lives.

Other factors important to employees when they're considering whether to stay or jump ship include the way people treat each other at work, the opportunities available for career growth and how the company addresses work/life balance and family issues.

It's a given that you have to offer attractive benefits and competitive salaries. But to retain top talent that can help drive company growth, employers must do more.

Employees want flexible work policies that allow them to take care of family issues. They want a work environment that's conducive to not just teamwork but camaraderie. And perhaps most of all, they want to be truly appreciated.

The boss needs to constantly communicate to workers the importance of the work they're doing and the company's appreciation for their talent and dedication.

The improving economy will reward workers and managers who are able to create an energized, dedicated team that continues to spur productivity gains. Companies able to take maximum advantage of a rising economy will be those able to retain top talent. The most successful employers will be those sensitive about employee needs and willing to make changes to keep their employees happy, engaged and productive.

Randstad North America's managing director of human resources, Gail Auerbach is responsible for recruitment and retention of the company's more than 2,000 employees in more than 500 locations in the U.S. and Canada. Reach her at gail.auerbach@us.randstad.com or www.us.randstad.com.