Employee Anxiety Levels on the Rise
The deepening recession is stirring widespread anxiety among U.S. employees about their job security and financial future as companies reduce or freeze head count and take other measures to manage costs.
Over half (54%) of the employees in a Towers Perrin survey conducted in December 2008 said their companies were not hiring, and 45% reported that their organizations had implemented or planned workforce reductions. Not surprisingly, a third (33%) said they expected to pay a greater share of the cost for employee benefit programs.
The survey targeted roughly 450 U.S.-based employees of midsize and large companies, and updates findings from a similar survey conducted in August 2008.
Shifting employee attitudes toward employers
In an economic downturn, it's common for employees to place greater emphasis on the security of their jobs, paychecks, core benefit programs and other basics associated with stable employment. And the survey results certainly illustrate this pattern, with a focus on security and stability rising to the forefront.
But what's interesting about the latest findings is employees' recognition that stability depends on the success of their employer and that they have a role in driving that success. Based on the response patterns, employees seem to be embracing something of a "give now to get later" sense of shared destiny — accepting cutbacks in hours, pay or other areas in order to give their employers breathing room to regroup in the tough economy.
The implicit assumption, of course, is that employers will share improving fortunes fairly and equitably over time, and any appearance of failure to do so could have a significant negative impact on these attitudes down the road.
Widespread worries about job security and the future
Employees' pragmatism notwithstanding, the survey also reveals that many employees are worried about how they'll be affected by the recession. Nearly half (45%) said they believe they face greater risk that their job will change or be eliminated, and even more (55%) believe the risk that their future earnings will plateau or decline has increased.
Employees also expressed concern about retirement, spurred in part by declining 401(k) account balances. Nearly two-thirds believe they face a much greater risk that they won't be able to afford to retire when they want to. Even more significant, the number of those polled who said they planned to retire in the next few years fell to 9%, compared to 14% in the August survey.
Favorable tilt in attitudes about senior management
The survey results highlight another interesting fact: Employees feel their senior leaders are relatively more visible and accessible now than was the case last August. While that's a positive sign, given the importance of effective communication in a downturn, this small uptick in views about leadership may have more to do with necessity than a fundamental change in leadership behavior. Senior managers typically have more information to impart when a company faces financial difficulty, so they tend to be more, not less, visible than might otherwise be the case.
In fact, perceptions of leaders have been relatively unfavorable across a decade's worth of research with employees worldwide. While having a reason to reach out more to the workforce is a positive, and critical, first step, the real challenge for leaders lies in sustaining and enhancing that visibility and connection as business results improve. There's no question that leaders who maintain open lines of communication can reap the benefits of a more engaged workforce and keep the organization on track to compete effectively when the economy revives. Learn more on our blog, Closing the Engagement Gap.