State of the American Workforce

Report from the Front: Gallup’s “State of the American Workplace”

Released in February, Gallup’s new report on its surveys of the American workforce drives home the changing nature of work in this country.

The extensive report was compiled from more than 31 million responses to Gallup surveys and database services. This is the third report issued by Gallup on the subject; the first was released in 2010.

The report covers a broad swath of topics of interest to hiring managers, recruiters, and employers.

The background picture

The Gallup report offers a new look at the current job market. According to the report, just over 50 percent of employees surveyed are watching postings or seeking a new placement. While those kinds of numbers are generally used to hype the recruitment of passive candidates, the Gallup survey describes a different scenario.

Gallup notes that, at present, Millennials have the highest rates of under- and unemployment. Despite an abundance of jobs, about 68 percent of these workers feel they are overqualified for the job they have. In terms of childcare and commuting, this group is the most likely to feel challenged by the costs of work. As well, many Millennials—even with college degrees—do not have specialized skills for high-demand jobs, causing a disconnect in the rosy news about job creation and employment levels.

Despite the background static, many respondents feel optimistic about their chances of finding a job as good, or better, than the one they have currently. In 2012, only 19 percent of respondents felt it was a good time to find a decent job, while in the third quarter of 2016, 42 percent of workers felt optimistic about finding a good job.

Workers on the move

On the whole, the American workforce is mobile; 35 percent report switching jobs in the past three years. Workers are often fairly confident they can find a good job with what Gallup refers to as a “grass is always greener” perspective.

Interestingly, more than 90 percent of employees who switched jobs in the past year did so by leaving a current employer entirely, indicating a need for better retention strategies. Lateral moves within a company, or division, offer talent the chance to expand skills, gain experience, and deepen a career toolkit. That isn’t happening here. Instead, employees are picking up and moving to a new employer, and may do so repeatedly—the well known “job hop.” Here are a couple of reasons why this is an unproductive trend for employers and employees:

  • For companies, turnover is expensive. Teams and company culture are disrupted, morale is affected, and productivity temporarily drops off. If several employees take their leave, productivity and brand reputation can be damaged.
  • Workers who are currently employed have more leverage to challenge themselves. Already past any probation period, these employees can leverage their value for additional challenges that could improve their skills and help them find the right niche in a company or industry. When workers leave employers before fully exploring opportunities, potential is left on the table.

According to the Gallup report, exiting employees often cite the following reasons for their departures:

  • Poor job fit in their current position
  • Difficulties with management, or poor experience with manager or supervisor
  • Limited opportunities for career expansion
  • Lack of adequate salary, perks, or benefits
  • Company culture is not what they expected

None of these points are eye openers. The current job marketplace is peopled by workers looking for a job in a company that suits, fits, and meets their expectations. In past decades, the reverse was true. With less emphasis on workforce retention, workers adapted to suit a position, fit into the company, and keep their job.

For HR departments looking to hold down recruiting and onboarding costs, and nurture talent, managing worker expectation is critical to retention. We’ll talk about that next.

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