Welcome to the post-recession reality

2010

Forget career progression and job satisfaction. For a workforce battered by recession, the new reality is one of reduced expectations, increased anxiety and a desire for job security and stability above all else.

The recession may be coming to an end, but its impact on the global workforce will be deep and long-lasting – particularly in the United States. In fact, according to the latest Global Workforce Study from professional services company, Towers Watson, the recession has fundamentally altered the way many of us view our work and business leaders, while dramatically accelerating changes to the social contract that underpins employment.

In contrast to the results of previous surveys, the 2010 edition reveals that employees have dramatically lowered their career expectations, with career advancement and job satisfaction taking a back seat to a desire for security and stability.

So strong is this desire for security that the recession seems to be breeding a new era of 'company men'. Eight out of 10 respondents says they want to settle into a job, with around half saying they want to work for a single company their entire career and the rest wanting to work for no more than two to three companies – figures that stand in stark contrast to the notion of 'free agent' employment that was so hyped just a few years ago.

With so few job opportunities and so little security, it is probably not surprising that many employees also appear willing to sacrifice career advancement to maintain whatever job stability they've been able to hang onto through the recession.

Half of those polled said there are no career advancement opportunities in their current roles, and four out of 10 believe they would need to find another employer if they want to advance to a higher-level job. Yet despite this, eight out of 10 said they are not actively looking for other positions.

"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," said Towers Watson's Laura Sejen.

"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."

Another significant finding from the study is that in the current climate of uncertainty and constant change, employees increasingly value leaders who connect with them on an emotional level, care about the well being of others and project integrity and empathy.

In fact, eight out of 10 of those surveyed said that the attribute they most wanted in senior leaders is trustworthiness, almost double the proportion who are concerned about leaders' ability to manage financial performance.

Nick Tatchell from Tower Watson in the UK said that that business leaders have a critical role to play in re-motivating their employees in a post-recession world.

"The role that senior leaders play in winning back the trust of their employees is to build a successful competitive organisation with a strong external brand and reputation, and to embed a culture that enables people to contribute fully to this success," he added. "This is much more than simply creating a workplace that people feel 'great about'."

But winning back an exhausted and demoralized workforce could be an uphill task. According to Towers Watson, what worked for an organisation pre-recession will just not cut it today. Fundamental changes in both the employee/employer contract and employees' own priorities make a 'return to normal' nearly impossible.

Instead, organisations are going to have to educate employees in self-reliance, helping them to manage their careers and their financial future outside the safety net provided in the past.

"For many employers, the recession has put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional 'deal' that once existed between employees and employers," said Towers Watson's Max Caldwell.

"Not only have people seen many coworkers, friends and family members laid off, but they know they are increasingly on their own for everything from health care, to managing their career, to planning for a secure retirement. This represents a profound shift for employees and employers alike."