Human Capital & Careers

Survey: Workers May Bolt When Economy Recovers

Upside: vast majority of employees care about their jobs. Downside: many already looking for better opportunities.
Lisa YoonMay 30, 2003

A workforce study released this week by human-resource consultancy Towers Perrin offers good news and bad news for employers. Actually, it’s more like pretty good news with a big caveat (admittedly, that doesn’t have the same punch as “good news, bad news”).

Anyway, the good news is that according to “Working Today: The Towers Perrin 2003 Talent Report,” employees still have a very strong work ethic. They remain committed to helping their companies succeed, despite the faltering economy and the lay-off possibility.

Of the 40,000 employees surveyed, 78 percent said they’re personally motivated to help their company succeed; just as many indicate they’re willing to go the extra mile to do so. Another 77 percent said they really care about the future of their company, while 70 percent claimed they’re proud to work for their company. Another 61 percent believe their company is a good place to work.

“We were frankly surprised and heartened by the resiliency of the workforce — and employees’ continuing sense of commitment — especially given the events of the past two years,” notes Don Lowman, managing director of Towers Perrin. “The study tells us employers haven’t yet lost employees’ goodwill [which] is critical for companies to nurture because it’s the foundation of true engagement, which numerous studies have demonstrated is strongly related to higher performance and productivity.”

The Big But

“But make no mistake about it,” Lowman adds. “This goodwill isn’t an infinite or self-renewing ‘resource.’ It depends on employers’ meeting people’s need for a number of workplace elements, notably, strong leadership, advancement and development opportunities, and a sense of control over work and the work environment. These are among the key factors that build employee engagement, and this is where employees tell us companies need to put their time and focus.”

According to the study, most employees (64 percent) are only moderately engaged in their work. (Towers Perrin defines “engagement” as willingness and ability to contribute to company success.) Almost one-fifth (19 percent) of employees are disengaged, meaning they have mentally “checked out.” In other words, they’re just in it for the money.

Indeed, only 17 percent of the respondents describe themselves as highly engaged at the office.

Clearly, these numbers depict a “a challenge to employers,” as Charlie Watts, head of Towers Perrin research, puts it. “Employers have to figure out who the disengaged are and whether they are in positions defined as ‘mission critical,’” then decide whether to work with them or give them the boot.

It’s no surprise that the two most engaged groups of employees are executives and non-profit workers. Fifty-three percent of executives reported being highly engaged in their work. That’s twice the level of highly engaged managers and directors (the next level down), and up to four times the engagement level of rank-and-file staff.

Non-profit employees, with 42 percent saying they’re highly engaged, were as much as three times as engaged as workers in other industries. Presumably, this reflects the mission-oriented nature of public-sector work, which tends to draw people who are passionate about their jobs.

Obviously, there are substantial benefits for employers that are able to getting employees really interested in the jobs. “Moving employees from a state of moderate to high engagement makes them almost twice as likely to want to stay with the company,” notes Lowman.

Right now, of course, getting people to stay with the company is not a big concern for employers. Most employees feel lucky just to have a job these days. But Watts believes employers should be planning ahead for better days.

“[W]hen the economy begins to rebound,” he notes, “companies with a high percentage of disengaged or moderately engaged employees could become revolving doors for talent … And if some of the departing employees are in key jobs, the impact could be significant.”

If you’re keeping score, 6 percent of the highly engaged respondents are actively looking for other opportunities now, according to the study data. Eleven percent of the moderately engaged are looking. Nearly a third of the disengaged are actively seeking new employment.

Russian Drama

This is kind of like War and Peace, only without the peace.

Alexander Zurabov, CFO of Russia’s top airline Aeroflot, has gone over his boss’s head. Really. Last week, Zurabov was named chairman of the airline’s board of directors, according to the Moscow Times. That makes him the boss of his former boss and rival, Aeroflot CEO Valery Okulov. Eight out of nine board members voted Zurabov into the post. Guess who didn’t vote for him? Here’s a hint: Okulov is on the board.

For some reason, the guy can’t stand Zurabov, though it’s unclear why. (Apparently, the feud is so longstanding that Russian news sources no longer deem it necessary to explain its origin.) In March, two months after Zurabov was appointed aviation adviser to Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, Okulov stripped Zurabov — the company CFO, mind you — of authority to sign financial documents, according to the Russian newspaper. Around that time, finance director Nikolai Kutznetsov resigned. Rumor has it that Kutznetsov, a Zurabov ally, was pressured into quitting.

Zurabov was praised as a respected financial manager when he was appointed in 2000. Since then, he has not disappointed anyone. He is widely credited with turning Aeroflot into a high flyer over the past three years after a decade of financial decline. Last year, as other airlines around the world struggled, the Russian airline reported about a $100 million in profit.

Earlier, Zurabov said that he planned to step down as CFO if he was voted chairman. Yelena Sakhnova, transportation analyst at United Financial Group, praised Zurabov’s appointment. “He must be tired of the constant stand-off with Okulov and is looking ahead to more strategic work for which he is now well-placed,” Sakhnova told the Moscow Times. Sakhnova added that it would be better for the airline if Zurabov remained CFO, “but given the current situation [with Okulov] it is probably to the company’s advantage that he step down in that capacity to ease the daily tension.”

Incidentally, the feud between the two men isn’t the only drama that has plagued the airline. In the mid-1990’s, the airline was investigated for money-laundering linked to financier Boris Berezovsky. Two of the airline’s executives were Berezovsky’s cronies. Okulov, appointed CEO in 1997, was reported to have close ties with him as well. In the past two years, the company has also witnessed battles with labor unions and in-fighting among board members. And once, a flight from Singapore was diverted as a woman gave birth.

Oh, yes — and CEO Okulov is former President Boris Yeltsin’s son-in-law.

CFOs on the Move

IRS finance chief Todd Grams starts a new job as CIO on Monday. Grams is taking over for John Reece, who left the IRS in February after two years heading tax agency’s IT upgrade.

“Todd’s current position of CFO has afforded him a unique understanding of the challenges facing the IRS in the modernization arena,” IRS Commissioner Mark Everson said in a statement. In a report to Congress, Everson named IT modernization as one of his top priorities.

In addition to a new job, Grams gets a new boss: John Dalrymple, a 28-year IRS veteran, was named deputy commissioner for operations support. He’ll oversee Grams, the service’s CFO, chief human capital officer, agency-wide shared services, and physical security operations. Dalrymple has been commissioner of the IRS’s wage and investment division. He’s also served as IRS chief and deputy COO.