Thursday, March 18, 2010

Human Resource Executive, March 17, 2010, Wednesday

Human Resource Executive

March 17, 2010, Wednesday

Human Resource Executive

Weary Workers Seek Job Security

Having seen co-workers and friends laid off, workers would like nothing better than to "nest" in their current jobs and stay with their company for their entire working lives. But few expect that -- and most are not looking for new jobs. Even so, they would like company leaders who are trustworthy and who care about their employees.

By Marlene Prost

Remember the days when Dad worked for one company and retired after 30 years with a watch and dreams of a peaceful retirement?

That scenario is looking better and better to U.S. workers, who are worn down by the "Great Recession" of recent years. The uncertainty of the job market and the lack of company support for retirement have workers longing for job security and for leaders who care, according to Towers Watson's 2010 Global Workforce Study, a survey of 20,000 employees in 22 global markets, including 1,079 U.S. workers.

The current recession has changed the "basic social contract" of the U.S. work force, according to Towers Watson researchers. Employees have seen co-workers laid off, have lost benefits and have lost the security of company retirement pensions.

It's no wonder that 80 percent of U.S. workers surveyed want to "nest" into their current job, and about half of them want to work for just one company for their entire career.

"The recession will create a lasting change in the way companies treat workers," says Max Caldwell, principal manager of New York-based Towers Watson's Talent & Rewards practice.

The recession, he says, has intensified growing trends, such as scaling back the work force, and increasing outsourcing and the use of technology. Workers can no longer take their jobs for granted.

"There's a sort of gap in the way organizations are viewing workers" and the way individuals see their jobs, Caldwell says.

Employment today has become more "contingent," so that an employee's value to a company is "contingent" on various factors: As long as the economy is good, as long as the company can afford it and as long as he or she performs.

Meanwhile, U.S. workers are craving more security and concern from their employers.

Asked what factors are most important in a job, 86 percent of surveyed workers chose a "secure and stable position," compared to 74 percent who chose higher compensation.

Fifty-one percent say they see no career advancement in their current job, and 43 percent believe they must leave their current company to advance. Yet, discouraged by the job picture, 81 percent say they are not looking for other jobs.

Laura Sejen, a leader of the company's Talent & Rewards practice, says "the recession has clearly prompted many employees to rethink their priorities and focus on a longer-term commitment to their employer in return for some semblance of job security -- despite the cuts or elimination of many programs, from bonuses to training, traditionally used as retention tools.

"Where once employers fretted over a 'war for talent,' they must now plan for a workforce that appears ready to settle in for years -- perhaps even decades," she says.

Workers today also want their leaders to relate on an emotional level. Nearly eight in 10 (79 percent) of U.S. workers want their senior leader to be trustworthy, and 67 percent want leaders to care about the well-being of others.

The social contract our parents and many boomers grew up with "went out the window in the late '80s and '90s" and is not coming back, says Christopher Collins, director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y.

Even though the survey findings suggest a desire for job security, younger workers don't expect it. They don't have the same company loyalty as older generations, Collins says.

"This generation, having seen their parents laid off once if not twice in their lifetime ... they've got clear evidence that a long-term relationship doesn't necessarily exist. While they may be feeling, 'Wouldn't it be nice?' they know better."

The main concern of the younger workers is keeping their own personal skills current so they can find a job anywhere. "When you talk to [young] employees and the newer generation in school, they fundamentally believe they need to manage their own concerns," Collins says.

"It's clear," says Sejen, "that what worked for an organization pre-recession just isn't sustainable in today's environment. Fundamental changes in both the employee-employer contract and employees' own priorities make a return to normal nearly impossible.

"Instead, organizations must hone their ability to enable employee self-reliance, fostering within each person the knowledge, skills and confidence necessary to effectively manage their careers, their health and their financial future outside the safety net provided in the past."

Caldwell says that "the vast majority of employees understand they are in control of this 'new deal,' but it's up to employers to equip them to act by giving them the tools and training they need to be confident and successful."

Another change has been the shift of responsibility for retirement planning from the company to the individual. Nine of 10 U.S. workers surveyed say the primary responsibility for their financial future rests with them, says Caldwell. Yet only 51 percent feel comfortable handling that responsibility.

While the average worker around the world anticipates retirement at age 62, that number rises to 67 in the United States. In fact, nearly one-third (30 percent) of U.S. workers plan to stay on the job until age 70 or beyond, according to the survey.

"It is increasingly true," Collins says, "that fewer companies define benefits, and people are going to struggle. That's not going to change. I feel for employees that won't have someone to help them."

Fortunately, HR leaders can help by providing financial guidance and access to advisers, he adds.

"The notion of 'passive security' is gone. The recession put a nail in the coffin," Caldwell concludes. "Companies need to think how they're creating employees who are more self-reliant ... to take ownership of their financial future.

"That's a pretty profound shift. ... 'I'm taking control. I own my career, my own development.' It's a hard message for those entering the work force, but it's the reality."

March 17, 2010

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