Survey: 74% of Workers Are Passive Job Seekers Ready to Consider a Move

If there is one thing that is pretty obvious as we slowly crawl out of the recession, it’s this: quite a few workers are ready to bolt for a new job if the right opportunity presents itself.

One survey last fall by Jobvite said that nearly two-thirds of America’s workforce, or 77.5 million people, were ready to leave for another job. Other surveys have had other numbers depending on when they were taken, but they all have one thing in common: a strong sense that quite a few people are not-so-happy with how they were treated by their employers during the Great Recession and that many are now ready to move on should they get the chance.

Think that’s way too pessimistic of an analysis? Maybe, but here’s yet another survey that not only reconfirms that thinking but makes the point even more strongly.

A large “silent majority” of passive job seekers out there

According to a recent survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Plateau Systems, a wide majority (74 percent) of employed full time/part time and not self employed workers would consider a new job opportunity. No big surprise there, but there is a twist in this poll.

According to Plateau, “after several years of recession marked by widespread layoffs, benefit reductions, and pay cuts, many assume U.S. workers would be singing ‘I can’t get no satisfaction,’ and actively hunting for new jobs. While certainly true for many, the survey indicates that most workers are satisfied or very satisfied with their current employment, and only about a quarter have an updated profile on resume on a job board or networking site like LinkedIn or Monster.”

Okay, that’s the twist — most people are generally satisfied in their current job. That’s somewhat surprising given the general sense that just as soon as the economy recovers enough for healthy job growth, employees will start voting with their feet.

But despite the promising signs, the Plateau survey also found that there is a large “silent majority” of passive job seekers. In nearly equal proportions, workers surveyed say they would consider a new job or career opportunity if approached, even if they’re not actively looking (74 percent), a percentage that is even higher among college graduates (77 percent) and those with a household income of more than $75,000 a year (76 percent).

The survey found three key reasons why workers, even if they are generally satisfied with their current jobs, are ready to make a move:

  • The desire for higher salary (57 percent);
  • A need for general change (31 percent): and,
  • The lack of adequate career and/or advancement opportunities (29 percent.)

“There’s a lot of talk about widespread job dissatisfaction, so we were frankly surprised by the findings,” said Jeff Kristick, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Plateau, in a press release that accompanied the survey. “The large percent of passive job seekers presents an interesting challenge for HR leaders as the predicted ‘war for talent’ heats up — this is clearly larger than a top performers problem.”

HR can impact workers’ perceptions

Ah, the “war for talent” again. This phrase popped up last week as a growing issue in Bersin & Associates latest quarterly survey, and the Plateau survey seems to reconfirm that the notion of “War for Talent 2.0” is a growing issue in the workplace and an area of concern for talent management leaders and HR pros everywhere.

Plateau’s analysis of the survey also said this: While most workers are seemingly just a better offer away from jumping ship, HR leaders have the opportunity make a significant impact on workers’ perceptions, if not the reality of their circumstances.

One way they can do this is by putting career and development programs front and center, for example ensuring that employees have an individual development plan (IDP) in place that gives them a clear picture of their future with the organization. HR can also play a role in providing greater transparency around what it takes to meet advancement opportunities, for example by establishing position-based competencies.

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Additionally, linking pay to performance can help ensure that top-performing and high-potential employees are fairly compensated, and thus less likely to jump when a competing firm “flashes some cash.”

Those are all good suggestions, but they still don’t address the major issue — a large and seemingly growing group of employees are ready and willing to get up and go even if they seem relatively happy in their current job circumstances. This “silent majority” of passive job seekers is a ticking time bomb for many companies, and it shows yet again (as if we needed more proof) that the businesses have done a great job getting their workers to accept the notion of “free agent nation” where there is no real loyalty from the company and it is everyone for themselves.

Workers didn’t necessarily want that, but businesses did, and they have had the upper hand in the relationship for some time given the terrible economy and glut of talent available. It will be interesting to see how businesses adjust when workers finally have some degree of power back in their hands again and can be a lot choosier about where they work.

Addressing the 3 reasons why workers would go

We may not be quite there yet, but as the Bersin research pointed out last week, this “New War for Talent” is distinguished by what Bersin calls “the borderless workplace,” an environment in which age, geography, gender and organizational boundaries are disappearing. Companies must immediately address employee and customer satisfaction issues, they say, because these factors will quickly surface on social networks.

The Plateau survey was conducted was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive on behalf of Plateau from January 25-27, 2011 among 2,516 adults ages 18 and older. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no estimate of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

This survey, although not quite as pessimistic as some, does give some hope that retaining quality talent is possible for an organization if they can address the big 3 reasons why workers would be willing to go — pay, new job challenges, and longer term career opportunities.

Will American business respond and do what is necessary to keep those passive job seekers on board? It’s hard to say, but one thing is clear; between the Bersin and Plateau surveys, there is a clear and undeniable sense that retention and talent management issues are becoming highly relevant again.

Even if you were able to ignore these issues during the recession, that doesn’t seem to be the case moving ahead.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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