While media and government attention has rightly been focused on people who have lost their jobs and are unable to find work in the current economy, the job market has also had the impact of decreasing satisfaction among those who have so far retained their jobs.
People with jobs in most industries have witnessed layoffs happen around them. They are likely grateful that they have been spared, so far, but can’t be certain that they won’t be next. This creates a sense of anxiety that can spread like a bad cold through an office. As soon as one person starts updating his résumé, the rest of the office is not far behind. In addition, while the workforce has shrunk considerably, the amount of work to be done, in most industries, has not decreased in equal proportions. This means that the employees who remain are often asked to take on additional duties and responsibilities while retaining the same paycheck, leading to a disconnect between the rewards that person is receiving and what she might think her contribution is worth.
Adding to all of this is employees’ decreased mobility in a bad job market. When times are good, talented employees have options. They can interview with other companies, negotiate salaries and benefits and move on when they feel undervalued. At the moment, there is very little for these employees to move on to. Salaries are stagnant across industries and job seekers have significantly less bargaining power when there are 100 other talented workers vying for the same position. All of this means that unsatisfied employees are staying put.
This last element can be looked at as yet another downside to the poor job market, but it may also be the key to improving worklife. Employee turnover is actually a bad thing. It is bad for employers who have to spend resources finding and training new employees, it is a bad thing for work environments as people are less invested in each other when they don’t believe the relationship will last for long, and it is a bad thing for individual employees who frequently leave jobs and therefore never get the chance to maintain a real connection to a workplace.
The question is, how can employers capitalize on this hopefully temporary reprieve from the threat of turnover, and can they do it in such a way as to decrease turnover when employees have more options? One answer surely lies in reinforcing employees’ perception of their value to their employers while decreasing uncertainty about the future of individual employees and the company. The current job market makes employees feel expendable. People know that their jobs could be filled at the drop of the hat, so it is essential to convey the sentiment that managers and executives care about employees as individuals. While monetary rewards are hard to come by these days, it is important that businesses do not forget about decency and fairness. The more that employers can acknowledge the contributions of their employees and cultivate them when times are tough, instead of only when they are competing for talented workers, the more likely it is that people will stay when they are given the choice to move on.