Two Views of How Employees (and their Managers) Are Feeling Right Now

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Jul 8, 2010

With the summer finally in full gear (and those of you living in the Eastern Time Zone know what I’m talking about), it’s time to step back and ask a simple question: how are the people who work for me doing?

Yes, it’s a simple question, but here are two very different responses.

One answer is that your employees are finally feeling they can take a well deserved summer break. According to a survey released this week that was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Adecco Staffing US, an overwhelming majority of employees (78 percent) are not concerned about their job security if they take a vacation this summer — a possible sign, according to Adecco, that confidence is increasing in the workplace as the economy continues to rebound.

In addition, the survey finds that employees are looking to “unplug” while they’re away on vacation, and that only 37 percent plan to connect with the office via cell or email while they’re away this summer – further evidence that workers are finally feeling more stable and confident in their jobs.

“As Summer 2010 kicks off and the economy continues to show renewed promise of recovery, employees are looking to enjoy the summer season without the worry and fear of losing their job,” said Rich Thompson, vice president of learning and performance at Adecco Group North America, in a press release accompanying the survey. “This likely indicates employees feeling a renewed confidence in the economy, and (that) increased feelings of job security in the workplace are returning.”

There are other signs in the survey that workers are feeling more confident, but you get the picture. Despite the sluggish economic recovery, it appears that workers are feeling good enough about things to finally take some time off.

How is employee morale, anyway?

However, there is another perspective and it comes courtesy of the latest Employment Trends survey that was also conducted by Harris Interactive (jeez, maybe polling is a good, recession-proof business to get into, no?) for the good people over at CareerBuilder . This study, conducted in late May and early June of 2,534 private sector hiring managers and 4,498 employees, didn’t ask about summer vacations, but instead, how workers felt about their job and career.

When asked the question “How would you rate your organization’s employee morale today?”, 30 percent of employees said it was “high or very high” while another 30 percent said it was “low or very low.” Hiring managers, however, were a lot more positive in their response, with some 38 percent saying employee morale was “high or very high” and only 22 percent feeling it was “low or very low.”

I’m not surprised by the employee response, except perhaps that those saying “low or very low” might be a lot larger. What caught by eye, though, was the gap between what employees and their managers felt when asked the morale question. Managers felt that morale was a lot better than their workers thought it was, and that reality gap between what workers and managers feel is pretty troubling.

HR managers are worried

What’s also troubling is the feeling among managers when asked the question “Are you concerned that your best talent may start looking for another job once the economy improves?” Some 42 percent of hiring managers in the CareerBuilder survey said yes to that question – a pretty big number, I think – while 58 percent said no.

But here’s the kicker: when this same question was asked of HR managers, some 56 percent said they were worried about their best talent looking to leave once things get better economically. Given that you can reasonably expect HR professionals to be a lot more plugged into the mood and mindset of the workforce, they probably have a much better perspective on this – and that’s not a pretty sight.

The CareerBuilder Employment Trends survey hasn’t been officially released just yet (and I thank them for sharing some of the findings with me), but here’s what I take away from these two very different studies: Workers are feeling a little bit better this summer, and so much so that they’re finally taking a well-deserved vacation, but a lot of them are also thinking about  finding a new job once the economy truly starts to improve. Hiring managers seem somewhat clueless about this, but their HR managers aren’t – and they’re worried about the prospect of losing their best people in the not-too-distant future.

Think this is just doom and gloom? Perhaps, but I consider it more of a wake-up call, a reminder that there is still a lot of hard management and HR work to be done to help get companies, and the people who really make them go, through this recovery period and into the next growth stage to come.