Job Hunting

Rashomon in HR

Two new surveys reveal a disconnect between what employees want -- and what employers think they want.
Lisa YoonDecember 5, 2002

If there’s one thing human-resources experts almost unanimously agree on, it’s the importance of employee retention — particularly in a recession. And where there’s talk of retention, the issue of employee morale inevitably comes up. This week, two new studies show that employee morale isn’t exactly at its peak right now.

Indeed, one out of five U.S. workers believes there’s a chance of losing his or her job in the coming year, according to the Career Confidence Index, a quarterly survey conducted by Right Management Consultants.

Moreover, 75 percent expect unemployment levels to rise in the coming year, with 83 percent of workers saying it will be hard for laid-off workers to find a new, similar, job.

Apparently, things don’t look much better to them in their own jobs either: When asked how likely it was that they would advance within their current company in the next year, respondents were almost evenly split between optimists and pessimists. Twenty-two percent said it was “very possible” they would advance, and 26 percent said it was “somewhat possible.”

About one in five, however, said it was “not very possible” they would go up the ladder next year, and another 28 percent said it was “not at all possible.”

That should be a wake-up call to executives and HR managers, asserts Right CEO Richard J. Pinola, noting that maintaining employee morale is especially important in a slow economy. Why? Corporations want to make sure high performers stick around for the rebound. That’s even more important if, as reports today, labor will likely be in short supply when the economy recovers. “It is critical that high-performing employees feel they have the opportunity, the coaching and the tools to develop within their companies,” adds Pinola.

While the Right findings should serve as a wake-up call for HR executives, the findings of another survey, conducted jointly by the Society for Human Resources Management and, might be a rude awakening. According to the new Job Satisfaction Poll, HR managers have incorrect perceptions of what employees want.

And what do they want? Judging by the 74-page report, the answers are complex. But it seems that right now, the number-one item of importance to employees is job security (65 percent of respondents) — not surprising, considering the economy. That’s also consistent with the Right survey. Job security is followed closely by benefits (64 percent) and communications between management and employees (62 percent).

Apparently, HR managers don’t see it that way, though. According to the survey, they rate communication between management and employees as the most important thing to employees (74 percent). That’s followed by recognition by management (62 percent) and relationship with immediate supervisor (61 percent).

Note that those second two aspects of the job weren’t even part of the top three in employees’ point of view. But what’s more important to notice is that those aspects concern relationships at work, while in reality, employees are more concerned with tangible issues such as benefits.

It’s perhaps more heartening to learn that despite these differences in perception HR and workers do agree on overall job satisfaction. Seventy-seven percent of the employees polled were either ‘satisfied’ or ‘very satisfied’ with their jobs — not far off from HR managers’ estimate of overall employee satisfaction (79 percent).