Even Prolonged Economic Downturn Does Not Dampen Worker Desire

Aug. 1, 2003
More than half of workers polled in a recent American workforce study would like to leave their jobs for new opportunities, despite a suffering employment

More than half of workers polled in a recent American workforce study would like to leave their jobs for new opportunities, despite a suffering employment market and ongoing national economic woes. The 2003 Spherion(R) Emerging Workforce(R) Study conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corporation (NYSE:SFN) reveals a surprisingly confident workforce poised to seek new jobs as soon as opportunities arise. As a result, organizations could be saddled with turnover costs estimated at $50,000 per departing employee or as much as $590 billion in a two-year period.

According to the national 2003 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study of working adults:

-- 52 percent of survey respondents indicated a desire to change jobs, with 46 percent indicating a desire to do so within the next six months and 75 percent within the next 12 months.

-- 54 percent of survey respondents indicated growing confidence in their ability to earn a stable income outside the conventional work structure.

-- 86 percent of workers cite work fulfillment and work/life balance as their number one career priority; conversely, only 35 percent of workers said being successful at work and moving up the ladder were their top priorities.

"Our study reveals a surprisingly confident, self-reliant workforce that is poised to walk out on employers at the first opportunity," said Robert Morgan, president of Spherion employment solutions. "Despite the current economic downturn -- or perhaps because of it -- more and more workers are self-motivated, taking charge of their own careers and searching for a balance between life and work. Today's employees are quickly adapting to a changing work environment and are more receptive to working outside conventional employment structures through alternatives such as contract, temporary or consulting arrangements."

Marc Pramuk, senior analyst for HR Management & Staffing Services at International Data Corporation (IDC), concurred: "A number of factors foreshadow the return to a war for talent that will continue throughout the decade. The current economic slowdown has had a cumulative effect on employee satisfaction and company loyalty following rounds of layoffs, rising workloads, flat compensation and few opportunities for promotion. The late 1990s created greater career ownership and job mobility among employees, and as the economy picks up, the fear is that large numbers of dissatisfied workers who were unable to leave will do so as soon as the opportunity presents itself."

Unprecedented Confidence

The 2003 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study of more than 3,200 American workers reveals that employees are shifting career and lifestyle priorities, which is forcing employers to reassess existing policies and procedures. In response to world events such as the September 11 terrorist attacks and the recent war with Iraq, employees are placing greater priority on family. Seventy-three percent said they were willing to curtail their careers to make time for family. Ninety-six percent are attracted to employers who offer ways for them to make time for personal responsibilities and personal development such as flex-time, job sharing and telecommuting, but most employees work for employers that don't offer such work/life balance options.

"The unprecedented confidence and expectations of employees are consistent with trends we have tracked since 1997," continued Morgan. "The strengthening of these trends, even in a continuing economic downturn is proof positive that we've entered a new era that requires employers to take a hard look at their existing relationships with employees. Many employers are not keeping pace with changing employee attitudes and the consequences could be disastrous in the battle to retain and attract employees."

Ernst & Young, a global professional services firm, is an exception and has been one of Fortune magazine's "100 Best Companies to Work For" for the last five years. Ernst & Young supports and encourages flexibility through its "People First" culture. The improved retention of women client-serving professionals has yielded savings to Ernst & Young of approximately $12 million annually. "We understand that each person has unique personal, family, community and career needs," explains Maryella M. Gockel, flexibility strategy leader for Ernst & Young. "We provide our people with all the tools they need to navigate where, when and how they work, and we trust that they will find the right flexibility that helps both them and the firm succeed."

The "Emergent Workforce"

The 2003 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study is the third in a series conducted to provide a comprehensive look at changes in the American workforce in the context of ongoing social and economic events. Previous studies were conducted in 1997 and 1999 and revealed the emergence of a new "breed" of employees -- the "Emergent Workforce" -- who are distinguished by a set of workplace values and expectations that vary drastically from what managers have traditionally encountered.

Emergent workers tend to feel more in control of their careers and want an employer that rewards them based on performance, whereas "traditional" workers believe that an employer is responsible for providing a clear career path and, in return, deserves an employee's long-term commitment. In addition, emergent workers are more concerned with opportunities for mentoring and growth and define loyalty as how much of a contribution an employee makes, compared with the traditional focus on job security, stability and defining loyalty as how long an employee stays with an organization.

Spherion's 2003 study estimates emergent workers now comprise approximately 31 percent of the workforce compared with a traditional worker population of about 21 percent. However, nearly half of the American workforce is now classified as "migrating" from a traditional mindset to an emergent mindset. By 2007, Spherion predicts that the emergent population will represent more than half of the U.S. workforce, with a traditional workforce of only eight percent.

"Organizations that continue to be defined as traditional businesses will be recruiting from a shrinking workforce and may suffer 40 percent more employee turnover among emergent workers as compared to emergently managed organizations," Morgan continued. "High turnover results in added recruiting, hiring and training expense, as well as the disruption of work and diminished productivity. It is crucial that employers carefully assess their recruitment, retention and HR policies and programs to determine if they match the needs and aspirations of the existing workforce and the workers they want to attract. If employers fail to do so, they could be faced with a potential crisis when the economy rebounds and the scramble for talent resumes."

Note:Full-time U.S. workers estimated at 111,832,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2001). Average cost of turnover estimated at 1.5 times the annual salary of a replaced worker, or $55,977 per employee, according to Saratoga(R) Institute data (2002).

Survey Methodology

The 2003 Spherion Emerging Workforce Study was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Spherion Corporation. A statistically valid national sample of 500 respondents was interviewed by telephone and 2,778 respondents were interviewed online. The 3,278 respondents polled were age 18 years or older and employed full-time (work for pay 30 or more hours per week). A series of three polls was commissioned by Spherion and conducted by Harris Interactive. The latest poll was conducted the week of July 7, 2003.

Spherion Corporation provides recruitment, technology and outsourcing services. Founded in 1946, with operations in North America, Central America, Europe and Asia/Pacific, Spherion helps companies efficiently plan, acquire and optimize talent to improve their bottom line. To learn more, visit http://www.spherion.com.

Harris Interactive, http://www.harrisinteractive.com, a worldwide market research and consulting firm best known for The Harris Poll(R), and for pioneering the Internet method to conduct scientifically accurate market research.