Will an improving job market lead to a rush of departures by unhappy workers?

The terrible economy has forced people to stay in jobs in which they are not happy. As Gary Namie at the Workplace Bullying Institute points out (link here), this means that a lot of workers have had to tolerate bad, even abusive, working conditions for lack of other choices.

But now, as sectors of the job market slowly show signs of improvement, folks are looking for greener pastures. Katie Johnston Chase of the Boston Globe suggests that even slight upticks in job openings could trigger a rush of departures by unhappy workers (link here):

Now, as the economy slowly improves, many disgruntled employees who waited out the worst of it are ready to jump ship.

Nearly two-thirds of employees are testing the job market, according to the 2011 Deloitte Human Capital Trends report. Another study by Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. found that 1 in 3 people want to quit their jobs this year.

…As workers gain confidence in an improving job market, a big dam is about to burst, employment specialists say. In some cases all it takes is one discouraged person leaving a company to give others the courage to do the same thing.

Overall, this is not a happy workforce. As a graphic accompanying the article shows (link here), employee loyalty has been on a steady decline since the 2008 meltdown.

Musical chairs?

But consider these questions: Does an improving job market mean that new, better jobs are being created, or are they simply variations on a not-so-great theme? And doesn’t this mean that to some extent, unhappy workers simply will be swapping jobs with other unhappy workers, while underlying problems at their respective workplaces go unaddressed?

The bottom line is that any kind of job creation right now helps people get back to work and offers more flexibility and opportunity for all job seekers. But we also need to be attentive to the quality of worklife, looking at how workplaces can become psychologically healthier so as to benefit workers and their employers alike.

6 responses

  1. I would say that most of the job force have been unhappy workers for longer than this most recent downturn — according to HR literature I’ve read over the years. I have a couple of immediate thoughts coming to me after reading your post (which is excellent). First, as we’ve heard in the news, the trend is for companies not to hire anyone who is currently unemployed and Second, so many of the employed are under employed that probably those people are the ones who will be recruited.

    I really see the short-sightedness of hiring managers in not giving the more experienced job applicants a fair hearing as well as deciding in this very unusual and global job crisis that anyone who was laid off from a position had performance problems as a continuation of the bullying workplace.

    I even had someone tell me recently that the reason the job market isn’t picking up faster is because people who are 55 (!) and older refuse to step aside. This mindset has no comprehension of competence — at any age. Competence and productivity should be the reason for getting and keeping a job.

    Instead, we see the opposite occurring — all across the board. An incompetent CEO can actually ruin a company and then get paid millions just to go away.

    Sorry I got off topic – a little.

  2. I know of several people who went from one bad job to another to yet another ( from the frying pan into the fire then into an even hotter fire in some cases) continually looking for a job that provided good sane working conditions. Sometimes staying in a bad place is better than moving to a place that “looks” good until you actually work there for a month. When these organizaitons are “couritng ” you they lie so they look good. They will tell you your predecessor left because of ill health — leaving out the fact that it was the job that was killing her. I stayed at a job that was not good — but at least got to retire ealy with a pension. So overall I am glad I stayed even though my health suffered a little for it. Luckily, I am bouncing back. Right now in America with so many bad and downright evil places to work — switching jobs is like playing Russian Roulette with your soul.

    • Yes, indeed. I’m a believer in the “devil you know” philosophy. Bad workplaces abound, and often you don’t know the worst about a new one until it’s too late.

      The should-I-stay-or-should-I-go dilemma comes up in bullying situations all the time — and there’s point when people probably need to leave to save their health — but the really great places to work are few and far between right now.

  3. Pingback: The People Group » Blog Archive » Musical chairs may be coming to a job market near you

  4. Laid off in November in one state, I moved to another state for a job and now I am sitting in a musical chair! The outgoing cube mate gave me ALOT of information the first week I was there. No one has stayed more than a year and in two weeks on the job I found out why. Yes, the chair will be empty as soon as I can get out, it is a highly toxic workplace and the master minds have been doing it for years. The next place will have wide open and questions will be forthcoming on why the job is open, how long did the last 3 people stay, etc. I will hop until I find a normal place (“normal” would be an up!)

  5. Employee employability not loyalty to management, union, industry will hasten employment. As businesses, universities, states, counties, cities worldwide stumble through the recession some find themselves in a phase of creative disassembly. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are shed. World class University of California Berkeley Chancellor Birgeneau ($500,000 salary) and his $7 million outside consultants are firing employees via his “Operational Excellence (OE)”: 2,000 axed by end 2011. Yet many cling to an old assumption: the implied, unwritten management-employee contract.

    Management promised work, upward progress for employees fitting in, employees accepted lower wages, performing in prescribed ways, sticking around. Longevity was good employer-employee relations; turnover a dysfunction. None of these assumptions apply in the 21 century economy. Businesses, universities, public institutions can no longer guarantee careers, even if they want to. Managements paralyzed themselves with a strategy of “success brings successes” rather than “successes brings failure’ and are now forced to break implied contract with employees – a contract nurtured by management that future can be controlled.

    Jettisoned employees are discovering that hard won knowledge earned while loyal is no longer desired in employment markets. What contract can employers, employees make with each other?

    The central idea is simple, powerful: job is a shared partnership.
    • Employers, employees face financial conditions together; longevity of partnership depends on how well customers, constituencies needs are met.
    • Neither management nor employee has future obligation to the other.
    • Organizations train people.
    • Employees create security they really need – skills, knowledge that creates employability in 21st century economies
    • The management-employee loyalty partnership can be dissolved without either party considering the other a traitor.

    Sustained employability in the 21st century economy is not loyalty to management, company, university, public agency or union.

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