Another Survey Says Workers Are Fed Up and Ready to Bolt – And Why

This may sound like a broken record, but here’s yet another survey that shows that a great many employees are ready to bolt for a new job whenever they get the chance.

This time it’s from insurance giant MetLife, and it comes in the form of their 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefit Trends. It’s one of these big, well-known and well-respected benchmark surveys that has (of course) a ton of great information about employee benefit trends, but all of that is really secondary to what they chose to high light at the very beginning of the the survey report:

The 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends delivers a clear message to employers: Reprioritize employee loyalty and satisfaction, or economic recovery may arrive with unanticipated setbacks for retention and productivity.

This year’s findings reveal a workforce that has grown more dissatisfied and disloyal, to the point where a startling one in three employees hopes to be working elsewhere in the next 12 months.

Yet employers continue to believe employees are loyal, and they do not appear to be tuned in to this potential flight risk. Focused on the challenging business environment, employers remain confident of strong levels of employee job satisfaction and loyalty.

A loyal and satisfied workforce is part of the foundation of business growth. Widening cracks in this foundation may force employers to pay a price in reduced retention and productivity when the job market improves.”

“A workforce ready to take flight”

Yes, this survey is about benefit trends, but the biggest trend of all is the huge disconnect between employers and their workforce.

In a section of the survey titled “Cracks in the Foundation — A Workforce Ready to Take Flight,” it says that the survey found that more than one in three employees (34 percent) “hopes to be working somewhere else in the next 12 months. And this intent is true no matter the company size. Employers — lulled by a period of low turnover — may have become less focused on employee job satisfaction and retention.”

The survey also shows that employee loyalty has been slipping — from 59 percent who said they have “a very strong sense of loyalty to their employer” in 2008 down to 47 percent in 2010.

In addition, the percentage of employees who say that “their company has a very strong sense of loyalty to them” has also declined from 41 percent three years ago to only 33 percent last year.

More troubling is the fact that the survey also shows that employers are unaware of this drop in employee loyalty. Overall, the percentage of employers who say that “employees have a strong sense of loyalty to the company” has ticked up a bit since 2008 — from 50 to 51 percent.

Employers focused on costs, not retention

If there is a reason behind the dissatisfaction that many workers have for their employer, it’s because of this, as the MetLife survey puts it:

Not surprisingly, employers this year report that managing benefits costs is by far their most important benefits objective. When asked to rank the relative importance of their top benefits objectives, employee retention and productivity are considered important, but rank below the need to manage the bottom line for benefits costs.”

According to the survey numbers, when employers were asked to name their top objective and then rank them in order of priority, 33 percent said it was controlling health and welfare benefit costs, not surprising given the huge focus on health care reform and what it is going to mean to businesses. “Retaining employees” was only listed as a top objectives by 22 percent of companies, and attracting employees by just a tiny 5 percent of organizations.

“Businesses are understandably focused on expenses,” says Ronald Leopold, vice president of MetLife’s U.S. business. “But they’re taking their eye off the ball with human capital issues, notably what drives employee satisfaction and loyalty.”

He added: “Employees are starting to sniff out the possibility of an economic recovery, and they’re getting antsy. In the past, they were happy to keep their head down in the ‘We are just lucky to have a job’ economy.”

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A huge and growing disconnect

If anything, the MetLife study highlights the huge and growing disconnect between workers and employers, one where employers feel that everything is well with workers while workers are growing more frustrated by what they perceive as indifference by management to the struggles and sacrifices they have made throughout the Great Recession and the slow post-recession recovery.

For example:

  • Employers have detected virtually no decline in employee satisfaction over the past three years, with the number who agree that “workplace satisfaction is high among our employees” ticking up from 43 percent in 2008 to 44 percent in 2010.
  • Workers who say that “I am satisfied with the job I have now” has declined from 59 percent three years ago to 51 percent last year.
  • In addition, workers who say “I feel a strong sense of loyalty to my employer” has declined sharply from 59 percent in 2008 to 47 percent in 2010.

The 9th Annual MetLife Study of Employee Benefits Trends was conducted during the fourth quarter of 2010 and consisted of two distinct studies fielded by GfK Custom Research North America. The employer survey comprised 1,508 interviews with benefits decision-makers at companies with staff sizes of at least two employees. The employee sample comprised 1,412 interviews with full-time employees age 21 and over, at companies with a minimum of two employees.

There’s a lot more to this survey — including why employee benefits matter to workers more now than ever — that can’t possibly be detailed here. needless to say, it is must read for every manager, executive, and HR professional who cares about the state of their workforce and wants to do whatever they can to keep them happy, productive, and probably most importantly, continuing on your payroll.

I’d call it a wake-up call for employers everywhere except that this is not the first time there has been a survey that clearly shows that workers are ready to leave if they get half a chance.

No, it’s hard to be a wake-up call when you don’t hear it ringing and just continue to blissfully snooze right through.

John Hollon is managing editor of Fuel50, an AI Opportunity Marketplace solution that delivers internal talent mobility and workforce reskilling. He's also the former founding editor of TLNT and a frequent contributor to ERE and the Fistful of Talent blog.