Who says workers aren't sensitive to the economy?
Maybe they didn't used to be, but in times of economic roiling like we are going through right now, they certainly are.
About 18 months ago, Atlanta-based Randstad USA, a staffing and recruitment company, found an almost giddy optimism in the work force.
Workers said they were more confident, eager to take risks, switch jobs and ask more of employers than at any time in the previous five years. Even with a tenuous economy in 2007, they believed that jobs were plentiful and the "right people" were not.
Updating that evaluation in early 2008, Randstad reports that employees are no longer feeling so bold. They have stepped back to review their own work success and what is reasonable to expect from employers. The results are fascinating and sobering.
Randstad's survey finds that workers are lowering their expectations as the economy struggles. Each of the four major benefits workers seek in a job has been downgraded in importance by the workers themselves.
For instance, only 72 percent cite competitive pay as an important job benefit, down 5 percent over the past two years. The desire for flexible work hours dropped to 50 percent and more paid time off fell to 47 percent, declines of 4 percent and 6 percent, respectively.
Even the desire for opportunities for advancement was tempered, with 46 percent identifying it as an important benefit compared to 50 percent in 2006. A review of more personal and intangible aspects of employee satisfaction declined across the board. In each of 15 cultural aspects of work happiness, workers seemed willing to put up with less.
Their desire to feel valued, be recognized, feel part of team, share vision, fit into the culture and work in a supportive environment all were less important in this year's survey.
"This suggests that economic well-being is beginning to overshadow emotional well-being in today's uncertain workplace environment," the report says. Randstad finds the employees are feeling the pressure of a less secure job market. Five percent more workers than a year ago indicated they would take on more of a workload to protect their jobs.
Meanwhile, others clearly say they are less likely to rock the boat at work. Fewer workers think it's a good time to go looking for a higher-paying job or asking for a raise. Others don't think it's appropriate in the current environment to ask for a lighter workload.
"An economic downturn paints pictures of layoffs and a message of tough times," the survey says. "Subconsciously, this put an additional motivation behind doing a better job since they feel a new job will be harder to find."
So workers are showing their sensitivity not just to the economy, but to the companies that employ them. That's a valuable thing to know. Now, let's hope companies find the means to return the table once the economy improves. Michael Kinsman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org