Better or worse off? Featured

5:09am EDT October 29, 2004
Despite continued layoffs, a sluggish economy and corporate scandals, employee morale hasn't eroded over the last four years, and workers remain loyal to their employers.

In 2000, 69 percent of employees said they were loyal to their employer. This year, 70 percent say they're loyal. When asked to rate company morale in 2002, 62 percent of employees said it was excellent or good. This year, 57 percent of workers gave morale similarly high ratings.

From optimism about the "new" economy in 2000 to this year's early warning bell about employee retention, Randstad North America's five years of comprehensive workplace research has monitored workplace attitudes in a constantly changing environment. Randstad's annual Employee Review findings are gathered by RoperASW from in-depth telephone interviews conducted with employees and employers throughout North America, making it one of the nation's most extensive workplace attitude surveys.

In many respects, employees and their bosses feel like they've been on a roller coaster the last four years. And as with any amusement park ride, there have been thrills and chills before ending back pretty much where we started as far as workplace attitude goes.

For example, long hours at work are nothing new. In 2000, 47 percent of employees said there's no such thing as a 9 to 5 job anymore, and the same percentage today agree that's the case. Working overtime wasn't a problem four years ago, and it still isn't today; 58 percent of workers in 2000 said they were satisfied with the hours they worked; 60 percent said so this year.

The annual surveys have found that employees continue to be committed to maintaining high levels of productivity and to learning and growing on the job. Today's workers are pretty realistic in their expectations, and hold few misconceptions regarding the workplace or job opportunities.

While employees who survived layoffs and downsizings feel that their employers need them, workers are no more confident about keeping their jobs than they were four years ago. In both 2000 and 2004, only 27 percent of employees said they weren't afraid of losing their jobs because the company needed them too much.

In 2004, as at the turn of the century, fat paychecks aren't among the top five reasons workers give for deciding to stick with a job. Both years, the top reasons given for staying put were insurance/health benefits, job security, liking co-workers, an easy commute and a pleasant work environment. Competitive wages ranked 11th on the list of reasons employees say they'd stay with their present employer.

In large part, competitive pay has become a given. Today, employees also want to feel that their jobs have meaning. They want to feel comfortable with the people they work with and they want the boss to be open and honest with them.

Employers who want to retain top performers must be sensitive about both the workload and the hours asked of employees. Most important, employers need to recognize when employees contribute extra time and effort, and allow flexibility and balance when the workload is less demanding.

The U.S. work force has pushed productivity to historically high levels, but the productivity ceiling is fast approaching. To maintain productivity and remain competitive, companies need to get back to basics and look more closely at the organization to identify issues or conditions that may be blocking your work force's positive feelings about the company.

To remain competitive, companies must invest in employees in ways they have never had to do before. Employers must provide tangible, valuable reasons for employees to remain with the company and create more attractive jobs to compete for skilled workers.

The key to successful management during tight economic times is to be able to attract and retain the best talent and then channel their motivation and productivity toward achieving solid business goals. Recognizing and meeting employee needs is a constant process. As 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 United States and Canada. Reach her at gail.auerbach@us.randstad.com. For more information about Randstad's Employee Review, visit the company's Web site at www.us.randstad.com.