10 Years On, Post-Recession Workers More Confident and Respected

Workers feel better supported by their managers than they did a decade ago, according to a new Korn Ferry study. On the down side, they consider benefits and pay to be less competitive. Let’s take a look at what employees are thinking as they look to the future.

October 1, 2018 – A new Korn Ferry analysis of U.S. employee engagement data shows distinct shifts in employees’ attitudes toward their workplaces in the 10 years since the start of the Great Recession. The analysis of more than one million workers in about 180 companies shows both positive and negative trends from 2008 to 2018.

On the positive side, the analysis found that employees are 28 percent more likely today than in 2008 to believe that their immediate managers support their development, and are 15 percent more likely to report that their organizations demonstrate care and concern for employees.

Employees also feel more confident in the future, as they are 17 percent more likely today than in 2008 to believe their companies will be successful over the next two to three years. On the flip side, however, employees have stronger negative opinions today on several issues: 

Pay and Benefits

Times are changing in many unexpected ways. Pay and benefits are no longer enough to attract and keep good employees, especially Millennials and other up and comers. Instead, companies must offer the kind of career and workplace culture that fulfill their workers’ needs both in their work and personal life.

Compared to 10 years ago, workers today are 15 percent less likely to agree that the benefits their companies offer are competitive, and they are four percent less likely to believe their pay is fair considering the pay of people doing similar jobs in other companies.

“Back in 2008, many workers may have been happy just to be employed, given the mass layoffs at that time,” said Mark Royal, senior principal at Korn Ferry. “But today, with the tight labor market, employees have choices and may leave if they feel they can be better compensated elsewhere.”


Despite Drop in Unemployment, Wages Remain Concern for Many Workers
With unemployment hovering around four percent, many companies face the recurring question of how to attract and retain top talent in a candidate-driven landscape. In order to remain competitive, it is essential for companies to focus on trying to boost wages or reevaluate their benefits packages.


“Ten years ago, the world was still reeling from the Great Recession, mass layoffs and all-around jitters,” said William Sebra, global operating executive, Futurestep. “It only makes sense that candidates felt the need for a stable paycheck plus healthcare and retirement benefits. Today, workers are generally moving beyond basic needs to different priorities.”

Another report, by Glassdoor chief economist Andrew Chamberlain, showed that many of the more exotics perks today have but small effect on employee satisfaction compared to more traditional benefits like great health insurance, 401(k) matches and generous paid time off. The data showed that less traditional benefits like gym memberships, charitable gift matching and pet-friendly workplaces — while certainly important to some employees — on average have a surprisingly weak correlation with employee satisfaction. 

Training and Performance Management

To stay competitive in today’s ever-changing business environment, C-level executives agree that finding and retaining the right talent is essential, said the Korn Ferry study. But how to do that effectively remains a challenge. Compared to 10 years ago, employees are 10 percent less likely to experience strong cross-team support within the company and 11 percent less likely to believe that decisions are made at the lowest level appropriate.

Employee Attitudes in the Workplace at a Glance

“Today’s organizations run much leaner and unfortunately managers are sometimes too strapped with their own workloads to address the needs of their employees,” said Mr. Royal. “Over the past 10 years, there has also been a shift from hierarchal management to flatter, more interdependent working environments. It’s important that organizations understand the implications this has on managing employees.”

Related: CEO/HR Relationship Strengthens in Post-Recession Hiring Landscape

A separate study by talent management solutions provider Saba agrees with Korn Ferry’s findings, stating that businesses are not in tune with their employees’ perceptions of engagement, training and career development. While all survey respondents agreed that their companies are falling short on providing access to effective training, most surprising was the disparity between their responses. Only 22 percent of employees believe their organizations are very effective in providing easy access to training and development and the same percentage believe their organizations provide training and development that helps in career advancement.


Influencing Workplace Culture through Employee Recognition
As employers look for ways to deal with the challenges of low retention and high turnover, the Society for Human Resource Management and social recognition solutions provider Globoforce show more organizations are tying employee recognition efforts to core values.


“Employees need to be empowered to provide suggestions for improvement or what they like, giving them a voice in the company,” said Amanda Green, vice president of training and development at boutique executive search firm Becker Wright Consultants. “The first 90 days is a make it or break time for any new hire. Providing a feedback mechanism early on helps reinforce the culture of continuous feedback.” 

Career Paths and Workload Issues

Though the Korn Ferry analysis did find that employees believe their direct managers support their development more today, it also found that they feel their organizations overall have murkier approaches to career progression. Compared to 10 years ago, workers are 10 percent less likely today to have a good idea of possible career paths available to them, and they are six percent less likely to agree that there are enough people to do the work in their work group.

Related: As Employees Seek Job Changes, HR Heads Look to Improve Retention Rates

“Employees feel that there are not enough people to tackle demanding workloads, and often don’t see how their hard work will help them advance in the organization,” Mr. Royal said. “It’s important to continually monitor and adjust accordingly the demands on employees, and also offer them clear career paths that reward solid contributions.”

A separate study from Egon Zehnder found that that only 40 percent of executives said their organization helps them unlock their potential while another 31 percent responded in the negative. In addition, 72 percent of those surveyed said they would welcome more help from their organization to pinpoint and pursue personal motivations and goals.

“There are a number of critical areas about which organizations and their executives are failing to communicate,” said Andrew Roscoe, leader of Egon Zehnder’s executive assessment and development practice and one of the co-authors of the study. “If companies and executives can start to work together to align personal values and career trajectories, there is the potential to greatly increase job satisfaction, retention and performance across the global economy.”

Related: How Destiny and Learning Shaped This Recruiter’s Long Career Path

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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