Welcome to the start of a new year at work, where unemployment remains low and employees — in theory — have leverage to call the shots.
Yet the state of the American workplace is less than ideal. Workers say they feel shortchanged, commutes are more stressful, burnout is real and more are planning to jump ship.
“Companies are having to get more creative because there’s so much demand for better pay and better benefits,” said Elizabeth Hang, a Minneapolis-based workplace expert at the staffing firm Robert Half International.
In the span of a decade, the labor market has swung from deep recession and layoffs where businesses called the shots to what now is decidedly a candidate’s market.
More workers are scrutinizing their salary and benefits — and assessing their satisfaction, according to several surveys conducted during the year by Robert Half.
This itch to switch has employers concerned about holding on to top talent.
Last year, about three-quarters of workers nationwide said they’d checked their salary against market rates. Some 43% of workers planned to look for a new job during the course of the year.
“With unemployment so low, it makes it challenging for people looking to hire,” Hang said, “but exciting for job seekers in the market.”
Workers in the Twin Cities area presented a mixed bag of workplace perceptions, the company’s research found.
Close to half (45%) of Twin Cities workers would be willing to move for a job that has better pay and perks, slightly more than the national average. And while a solid third of local workers say they earn less than they are worth, more than 60% feel they are paid fairly, the highest of all 28 cities polled.
“It’s no longer just a salary,” Hang said. “People are looking at work-life balance, flexible work schedules and remote working. They want to know what are your benefits, what’s the time-off policy, what’s your environment and culture, who’s my leader. Everyone’s variables are different, which can make it tricky.”
Today’s workers generally want two things: more money and more flexibility.
But hiring managers are discovering that one size doesn’t fit all in a multigenerational workplace.
With four generations now working side-by-side, the workplace could be particularly antsy.
Older baby boomers are staying put longer, especially if they’ve got good health care benefits and enjoy the challenges and camaraderie of the workplace. Yet they may want fewer hours.
Generation X workers, who are 40 to 55, have moved into mid- and senior-level roles. A growing number feel they’ve paid their dues and are getting squeezed out of top jobs by long-term baby boomer managers and ambitious millennials.
The oldest millennials turn 39 this year. They’re driving toward their peak earning years and are eager to take on top management roles.
Generation Z workers are in their early- to mid-20s and ready to shake up the status quo. They have high expectations for diversity, training and workplace engagement.
This wide span of interests, experiences and workplace needs creates both conflict and opportunities.
“It’s not about understanding the different generations,” Hang cautioned. “It’s about understanding your employee and what they need.”
That means managers must do a better job of getting to know the rank-and-file if they want to hold on to them, she said.
Workplace burnout is garnering more serious attention with an “always-on” mind-set driven by technology. Nationwide, nearly all managers — 96% — believe their employees are experiencing some degree of burnout, according to the Robert Half surveys.
Twin Cities workers put the burner slightly above “5” on a 10-point scale, pinning the blame on constant interruptions and fires to put out. About a third of workers in the metro area say long commutes are adding to the stress, with an average journey of 40 minutes.
Workplace stress has become enough of a concern that the World Health Organization has redefined it among its international classifications of diseases. The organization is developing new guidelines on mental well-being in the workplace.
Both workers and managers share responsibility, but it can lead to what Hang called “regrettable turnover” if good employees leave.
Another vulnerability in the years ahead: a potential retention problem with loyal Gen Xers, said Stephanie Neal, director of the Center for Analytics and Behavioral Research at the global consulting firm DDI.
Companies have increasingly relied on these middle-aged workers without rewarding them with advancement, she wrote in an article in the Harvard Business Review.
Some 40% of Gen X leaders say they are contemplating leaving to advance their careers, Neal said, saying they’ve reached “the breaking point.”
Nearly one in five say this urge to depart has grown in the last year, levels much higher than in boomers or millennials.
A majority of workers believe the strong economy has helped their earning potential, according to Robert Half’s surveys, though there’s a significant gender split on that point — 68% men and 44% women.
About a third said their company has only offered small pay bumps, and about 30% say they’ll have to leave to get a pay increase.
“Not only do you need to ensure that you’re hiring good people,” Hang said, “but you should be looking at your tenured employees to make sure they’re at the market rate. Sometimes companies need to invest in their existing employees.”