Disengaged Nation: Some 77.5 Million Employed Are Ready to Make a Move

Illustration by istockphoto.com

There has been a lot written about how disengaged American workers are today given all that has happened – layoffs, furloughs, pay cuts and freezes – to them during the economic downturn and Great Recession.

Some make the case that this is overblown and that America’s workforce is actually a lot more engaged than people think. Well, here’s something that makes the case that employee engagement is actually in a lot worse shape than even the most pessimistic observers believe.

A new survey by recruiting website Jobvite found that two-thirds of currently employed Americans, roughly 77.5 million people, are either actively seeking a job or open to taking a new opportunity. An additional 33 million American adults – unemployed job hunters or soon-to-be college graduates – are also looking for work, for a total of 110.5 million job seekers looking to make a move overall.

Still think that those concerns about employee engagement are overblown?

“A nation of job seekers”

The Jobvite survey describes this as “a nation of job seekers,” and the survey makes this point in the executive summary:

Millions of Americans are currently unemployed, but they’re not alone in the hunt for work. They are joined by employed people actively looking to switch jobs, college graduates entering the workforce – and a large group of employed Americans who are open to a new job. These groups form a nation of job seekers

The Jobvite survey – titled Jobseeker Nation 2010 – isn’t about employee engagement, per se, but anyone who follows the many surveys and discussions about it knows that it says a lot about how American workers feel about their jobs and their employers when two-thirds of them are ready and willing to bolt their current organization and go somewhere else.

The survey broke the workforce down into three categories of workers in the United States:

  • Stationary Employees who are currently employed and not seeking or open to a new job.
  • Active Job Seekers that have recently looked or are currently hunting for a new job. This includes unemployed job seekers, employed workers actively seeking new jobs, workers hired in the past 12 months, and pending college graduates.
  • Proactive Career Managers who are currently employed and open to a new job but are not actively seeking one.

What is a ‘Proactive Career Manager?’

Much of the survey’s focus was on the “Proactive Career Managers” group that makes up most of America’s workforce, but as the executive summary notes, “not much has been known about their collective characteristics until now. In the past, job seekers have been categorized as ‘active’ or ‘passive,’ but this new segment is far from passive about building professional networks to surface new career opportunities. The survey revealed this category of worker to be:

  • Young: 73 percent are ages 18-44, compared to 53 percent of Stationary Workers and 76 percent of Active Job Seekers.
  • Highly educated: 52 percent are college grads compared to 31 percent of Active Job Seekers and 44 percent of Stationary Employees.
  • High-earning: 34 percent have an annual household income of $75,000+ compared to 19 percent of Active Job Seekers and 42 percent of Stationary Employees.
  • Positioning for the next opportunity: 73 percent engaged in job search activities in the last 12 months compared to 28 percent of those not open to a new job, the Stationary Employee.
  • Social: 77 percent use Facebook, 36 percent use Twitter, and 34 percent use LinkedIn.
  • Well connected: 52 percent have 50+ contacts on Facebook, 18 percent have 50+ contacts on Twitter, and 17 percent have 50+ contacts on LinkedIn. Stationary Employees and Active Job Seekers have 50+ contacts at similar or lower rates for Facebook and much lower rates for Twitter and LinkedIn. In addition, Proactive Career managers with a college degree or higher have markedly larger social networks than those without a college degree.

“A large group of job seekers believe they have a better chance to land a job if they are connected, proactive and prepared – and rightly so,” said Dan Finnigan, President and Chief Executive Officer of Jobvite, in a press release accompanying the survey. “These are some of the very qualities employers look for when hiring, and social networks are emerging as the meeting ground for like minded innovative employers and prospective employees.”

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How job seekers find new jobs

The Jobvite survey also found that the gold standard of job-hunting – referrals – remains the most common way to secure a new job. However, younger professionals build their networks faster and generate more referrals online as compared to previous generations still using more traditional methods.

  • 44 percent of all job seekers cited referrals and/or social networks as the source of their most recent job, compared to 32 percent for job boards (note, respondents could select multiple options).
  • 18 percent of respondents ages 18-24 and 19 percent of respondents ages 25-34 used social networks to find their current job, compared to just 9 percent of those 35-44, 4 percent of those 45-54, and 1 percent of those 55+.
  • Extrapolated to the national adult population, approximately 14.4 million American job seekers would credit online social networks for their current/most recent job.

While Internet job boards remain a popular resource, Jobvite’s survey found one-third of respondents using them (33 percent) said they could not find relevant jobs there. Meanwhile, the astronomical growth of social networks has created a new way for companies and candidates to connect online. Nielsen calculates social network traffic grew by 43 percent from June 2009 to June 2010, and social network activity is now the single largest activity online, dwarfing online games, email and search. And Americans are now turning to their social networks to find jobs.

“The survey reinforces what we know from our work, today our potential workers are no longer ‘job-seekers’ but consumers – of work itself,” said Libby Sartain, noted author and former Chief Human Resources Officer of Yahoo! and Southwest Airlines, in a Jobvite press release. “They are always open to the next job opportunity, one that’s flexible, recognizes their unique abilities, and is ‘Facebook worthy.’ Now employers must establish a talent brand that’s just as compelling as a consumer brand.”

This is a lot of information to digest, and there is a lot of interesting material here. But, it follows much of what Lee Webster, SHRM’s Director of Workforce Standards, talked about this week in his “Future of HR” presentation at KronosWorks in Las Vegas. To wit: the three big challenges for HR comes down to  dealing with 1) disrupted workforce structures (that were disrupted during the downturn); 2) employees who now feel alienated and distrustful of management; and, 3) the reduced resources for HR initiatives to deal with these issues.

If you aren’t worried about holding on to your workers, you should be. The Jobvite Job Seeker Nation 2010 survey makes that point very clear, but how many senior managers and executives are really listening closely enough to do something about it?

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.