Recession promps a rat race re-evaluation

Mar 27 2009 by Nic Paton Print This Article

If you've got a well-paid, secure job, it seems obvious to do everything you can to hang onto it, even if that means putting up with aggressive management and a poor working environment.

But as a new poll by recruitment firm Kelly Services has highlighted, cracking the whip too harshly can backfire even in the current fearful climate. Because even though many people are prepared to put in extra hours or accept reduced hours and pay if it means they get to keep their job, the notion of "work to live" rather than "live to work" is strong across the globe.

The survey of more than 100,000 workers in 34 countries across Europe, North America and Asia Pacific has identified a startling symmetry in terms of what workers want from life, with the long-term goal of many being to do something more fulfilling, even if that means accepting a cut in pay.

In fact slightly more than half of younger workers polled said that, if it came to it, they would be prepared to accept a lower wage or a lesser role if their work contributed to something "more important or meaningful", while six out of 10 older workers were hoping to move to a new job within 12 months.

This finding poses a challenge for managers, whatever their cultural background, environment or geographical location, argued George Corona, Kelly Services executive vice-president and chief operating officer.

"Our findings demonstrate important distinctions in how people from different cultures and generations make their employment decisions," he pointed out.

"One overriding trend is that people want their jobs to provide a degree of emotional fulfillment, even if it means sacrificing money and status to achieve it," he added.

Despite just starting out on their career journey, this willingness to down-shift to "something better" was most pronounced among idealistic Generation Y (aged 18 to 29) workers in Asia Pacific.

Among older Generation X workers (aged 30 to 47) there was a sense of general career worry, leading in turn to more casting around, looking at other options and exploring of career changes.

Among the Baby Boomer, aged 48 to 65, generation with less time to play with before retirement the feeling was mostly one of disappointment and lost opportunity, fuelling a sense of anger and disenchantment.

Breaking the study down, more than half of Generation Y workers said they were prepared to accept a lower wage or a lesser role if their work contributed to something more important or meaningful.

At the same time, more than six out of 10 of Generation X said they planned to look for a new job within a year, while nearly half of baby boomers complained that their career goals were not being advanced in their current job.

More optimistically, across North America, more than nine out of 10 said they derived a sense of pride from their work, the highest of all three global regions in the survey.

However this sense of pride and self-confidence was lower in Europe than in North America and Asia Pacific.

Almost half of the U.S workers polled said they would sacrifice pay and position for more meaningful work, with Generation Y and males the most willing to do so.

Globally some 45 per cent said they intended to look for another job within the next year, however the proportion in the U.S (four out of 10) planning to change was the lowest of any country in the survey.

A similar four out of 10 were worried their current job was not meeting their long-term career goals, with Baby Boomers the most alarmed.

More Europeans (two thirds) planned to look for work than any else around the globe, with Baby Boomers leading the way, the survey said.

Significantly larger numbers in Europe also expressed doubts about their career choices and promotion prospects.

Intriguingly, Europe was the only region where the idealism of Generation Y was markedly different, with Baby Boomers the group most willing to accept lower pay and position for more meaningful work.

In the Asia Pacific region, India, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand scored the highest in terms of pride of work.

And across the region as a whole, Generation X workers stood out for the satisfaction they derived from their jobs.

Despite the economic slowdown, two thirds of Baby Boomers indicated they were likely to look for a new job within the next year.

And "meaningful" work was more important than in any other part of the world, with Generation Y the most discerning on this issue.

"These findings show that the modern employment market is extremely dynamic and that achieving a high-performing, productive and stable workforce means managing a complex set of cultural and geographic influences," argued Corona.