Survey: Workers feel jobs are stagnant

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[This interview first aired on Marketplace, Oct. 2, 2009]

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Tess Vigeland: We mentioned earlier that jobs are one of the economic engines that's still stuck in reverse. The official unemployment rate is now more than 10 percent, and that doesn't even count folks who are working fewer hours. Or those who've taken big paycuts. The picture also isn't complete without a look at those who are left behind after layoffs. Yes, they're lucky to still be working, but a new reality does start to seep into the daily grind. And that is affecting employee behavior.

Jim Davis is with the talent management firm DD I. His company conducted a survey of about a 1,000 still-employed, non-management workers, and I asked him what they found.

Jim Davis: Thank you, Tess. Glad to be here.

Vigeland: You spoke with about a 1,000 workers, non-management types about their perspectives on work. What did you hear?

Davis: We were somewhat surprised to hear that over half of these workers feel that their careers are stagnant or in limbo.

Vigeland: And did they tell you why?

Davis: Yes, they did. How I would term this is they said that they were "in the no." They had no challenging assignments, they have no opportunities to learn new skills, they have no room to advance, they get no recognition and they have no line of sight to how their jobs fit in with the objectives of the organization.

Vigeland: Then how do those feelings of stagnation manifest themselves in the workplace. What's happening

Davis: People are going to actively seek new jobs as the economy improves. People are saying things like, "I just do what's asked of me, nothing more, nothing less. I just do my job and go home." As opposed to people that say, "I'm interested in what I do, I'm excited about going to work." And it has a negative impact on productivity and quality and customer service in organizations.

Vigeland: Frankly, that just sounds like a bad attitude.

Davis: It may be a bad attitude. We did ask people what they're doing about it and individuals are not going and talking to their boss about their future. Forty-two percent of the people that DDI surveyed have not had those kind of conversations, and we think that would be important for people to be able to make some changes and to do some things differently.

Vigeland: Did they say why they're not talking to the boss about their unhappiness?

Davis: No, they didn't say why they're not talking to the boss. But they did tell us some of the other things that they were doing. We found that people were more likely to do things like watch YouTube videos or check their Facebook site than to help a fellow employee with work or to take on extra assignments. And we also found that one out of every five people are calling in, playing hooky at work when they could be at work.

Vigeland: Oh my goodness. That is really counterintuitive to me, given the job situation in this country. I mean, yeah, you can be unhappy at work, but isn't this kind of the worst time to display that?

Davis: I agree with that and like I said, we were sort of surprised to see that figure come up that it does seem like it would be a time to be at work every, be working hard, to be doing all that you can do. I think that people, because they feel like their workloads have increased so much -- 53 percent of the people in the DDI study felt that their work load has increased 25 percent or more. And I think we get a little bit of "Well, I'm entitled to a day off, here or there," which is a terrible attitude to have.

Vigeland: Then how can companies motivate their workers now? There are not a lot of raises coming, bonuses have gone the way of the dodo bird -- unless you're the CEO -- promotions probably not likely in this economic situation. How do you motivate a worker

Davis: I think we go back to some of those areas that we would call the "land of the no" and turn those into the "land of the yes." So we look to give workers challenging assignments, we look to take these times to develop new skills in people and we look to provide recognition. We're probably not going to be able to provide room to advance right now, but we can do recognition, build skills and create challenging assignments.

Vigeland: Jim Davis is with the talent management firm DDI, and we've been talking about their survey of the current American work force. Thanks for coming in.

Davis: Thank you for having me Tess.

About the author

Tess Vigeland is the host of Marketplace Money, where she takes a deep dive into why we do what we do with our money.

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