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Wait for the job market to recover? Some workers can’t

Some workers are so fed up with their jobs — feeling overworked, underpaid and unappreciated — that they can’t wait for the economy to recover. They want a new gig now.
Some workers are so fed up with their jobs — feeling overworked, underpaid and unappreciated — that they can’t wait for the economy to recover. They want a new gig now. Richard Thomas

The theory has it that disgruntled employees across the nation will start sending out their resumes once the weak economy turns around. But some workers can’t wait that long. They feel overworked, underpaid and unappreciated right now, and things are so bad for them that they want a new gig now.

One Minneapolis-based advertising professional decided to switch jobs in April because morale at her former employer was so bad “people were dropping like flies.”

Christina — who didn’t want her full name used for fear of burning her bridges in her industry — was also upset that she only received a token raise after being promoted and taking on more work.

“I didn’t make as much as the previous person, even though he was not accurate at his job, made plenty of mistakes and had less experience in years than me.”

And Bobby E. is pondering a job move because he’s also disgruntled. His job involves supporting front-line sales representatives at a Louisiana-based telecommunications firm, and lately he’s been forced to work mandatory overtime as the firm keeps cutting corners.

“It seems like a revolving door as far as people are concerned,” said Robert, who did not want his full name used for fear of losing his job before he’s ready.

“The new people that are brought in are poorly trained,” he continued. “The company has seemed to take many shortcuts in regards to people and technology. Right now, I really don’t know which would be a lesser of the two evils, but I’m truly at the point where I want to leave one way or the other.”

The Labor Day holiday was created to celebrate workers, but many don’t feel like celebrating after years of cutbacks and sacrifices. More than one-third of U.S. employees believe “the spirit of the American workforce is broken,” according to the Aflac WorkForces Report released this week. And that appears to be causing the beginnings of a turnover trend even in this tough job market.

An annual labor study by, a jobs website, found that 22 percent of employed individuals in the United States have changed jobs in the last year, that’s up from 18 percent in 2010.

The poll also found that:

  • Last year, 34 percent of workers who changed jobs in the previous 12 months did so because they had been laid off or fired, but now just 22 percent of workers say that’s the case, declining 12 points in one year.
  • At the same time, more workers are reporting a proactive job switch. Of those who have landed a new job in the last year, 44 percent said it was a proactive move on their part to seek a new opportunity, up from 31 percent in the previous survey.
  • Nearly 20 percent of workers say they will be looking for a new job within the next year, up 4 percentage points from last year.

Of course, with the jobless rate still hovering at 9 percent, not everyone will be able to find a job, but the fact that more workers are searching for a job doesn’t bode well for employers, said Shawn Boyer, CEO of Snagajob.

“If people are being proactive about their job search that’s because they probably are not satisfied with their existing jobs, whether because of benefits cut, or extra hours they have to work, or a manager that’s not good — whatever it might be.”

Disgruntled workers, he added, “are a flight risk.”

The Bureau of National Affairs has reported a rise in the rate of workers voluntarily leaving their jobs in 2010 and in the first quarter of 2011 after the historic lows of the recession.

However, the business and legal data provider noted that the 0.7 percent rate for that period is still far below the 1.1 percent rate reported each year from 2005 to 2007 and the 1.0 percent rate seen in 2008.

“Nevertheless, first quarter median monthly separation rates in 2010 and 2011 are up noticeably from the 0.5 percent figure observed in the first quarter of 2009,” the bureau said.

And some disgruntled workers are looking beyond just another rank-and-file gig. According to a study released this week by business consultancy MBO Partners, about 14 percent of employees hope to become part of the independent workforce in the next two years by starting their own businesses or going freelance. The majority say doing so would be completely their own choice and not the result of a dismissal or layoff.

Dissatisfaction is the biggest predictor of turnover, said Wendy Boswell, Associate professor of management at Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School. And during this prolonged downturn, she noted, people who’ve been waiting for things to turn around may be tired of waiting.

“It’s not absolutely about salary and pay that drives turnover,” she explained. “What does drive it is the fairness of actions, of pay, and how decisions are made; whether workers feel listened to or get a voice; and how the work gets done. Fairness, justice is pretty critical.”

That means organizations that took a reactive approach to the downturn and instituted layoffs, furloughs, salary cuts, wage freezes, without clear business reasons, while at the same time enriching their top executives, may take the biggest hit when it comes to employees heading for the door, she continued.

But just because you’re mad at your employer doesn’t always mean you should start sending out resumes.

“Right now, in this economy, the grass may seem greener, but often leaving one company you were frustrated with may take you to another company where those employees are just as frustrated,” she explained.

While some workers are frustrated and want to leave, others have accepted their existing work predicaments.

“For the most part employees have been remarkably understanding about the situations of their employers,” said Steve Langerud, a workplace consultant and director of professional opportunities at DePauw University.

“They are ‘taking one for the team’ in many cases, but banking on a return in salary, benefits, responsibilities when things turn around,” he said. “At the same time, as things drag on they are keenly aware of other opportunities that would improve their situation.”

For some, keeping an eye out for other job opportunities is all about financial security not necessarily anger aimed at their employer, maintained Richard Chaifetz, a neuropsychologist and CEO of a global employee assistance program provider called ComPsych Corp.

Workers, he said, are feeling scared and pressured right now, especially when it comes to their own economic realities. He points to data released last week by The Conference Board — a not-for-profit business research group — that shows consumer confidence plummeted last month.

“They are looking to hedge their bets,” he surmised about many workers. Today, he continued, “people are concerned because the future doesn’t look as rosy.”