Will the much-hyped employee mass exit be Exodus 2.0?

What if they had an employee exodus and nobody came? That’s what we’re seeing so far, as dire forecasts of a massive number of dissatisfied employees walking away from their jobs have yet to materialize. Some experts predicted it would happen as early as February, others said March, still others left the possibility open for any time in 2010.

In some ways, this prediction didn’t seem too far-fetched. As Megaforce’s Megablog put it:

It’s not unusual for employees to leave a job after a downturn, quite simply because improving conditions typically result in more job opportunities opening up. However, many factors point to the strong possibility of massive employee turnover in 2010. According to the CareerBuilder survey, about 1 in 5 workers plan to leave their current job this year. OK, we all know the 80-20 rule. Which 20% of your workers do you think is planning on leaving? It’s a good bet that the ones leaving are the ones you’d like to keep.

That last bit strikes the same chord that much of the arm-waving on this matter has hit over and over again: “Watch out, employers, if your workers are unhappy, they’re about to revolt!”

Back in January, a study by the Australian recruitment firm Chandler Macleod Group found about 95 percent of the survey's 930 participants were looking for work, with 73 percent actively looking and 57 percent believing they were within about 90 days of finding a new job.

“Employee exodus” became the watchword across countries and industries, triggering alarm in the U.S., Britain, Australia, India and other countries , and leading outlets as far-flung as Lawyers Weekly  to project the possible effects on their field.

The gist for those who subscribe to this mass exodus theory is that employees have been beaten down by the recession and beaten up by their employers, and want a fresh start. Yahoo! Hotjobs conducted their own survey back in December with 806 hiring managers and recruiters, 44 percent of whom predicted a rush to the exits by workers. Wrote Larry Buhl:

As an example of how hard it may be to keep top talent in 2010, Mark Anderson, president and chief economist for ExecuNet, told Yahoo HotJobs that 90% of executives will now take calls from executive recruiters, a sign that more of them are now considering other options.

In an article for LiveCareer, Maria Hanson referred to a survey by Harris Interactive that found most workers are unhappy with their job, with 66 percent dissatisfied with their pay and benefits, 76 percent dissatisfied with their current opportunity for growth in their job, and 78 percent dissatisfied with their employer’s effort to keep them. Hanson sees the coming shake-up as a great opportunity for workers, advising them to aim for promotions and raises, and move on if they don’t feel they’re getting what they deserve. She has a warning for employers, too:

Career experts anticipate that this job dissatisfaction will translate into a mass exodus once the economy turns around. When more jobs become available, employees will be more than happy to leave behind job stagnation and flagging wages to hunt for better employment opportunities. Companies that don't make changes now should be prepared to lose even their top employees. "We're surprised to see how many companies have not improved [employee relations] during the recession, but have become more Draconian," says HR specialist Glen Earl. "Those types of companies will see massive turnover."

But why haven’t we seen any indication of this shake-up yet? The obvious answer is that the economic recovery simply hasn’t materialized as quickly as many expected, and much of the gains so far have been infamously “jobless.” But another possibility may be that while the recession has caused workers around the world no end of frustration and worry, they may be more sympathetic to their employers’ own tough situation than their current level of stated dissatisfaction indicates.

None of this is to say that the Great Employee Exodus of 2010 isn’t still yet to come. But for right now, it’s still no more than a fantasy for a recession-battered workforce.

01 March 2010

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