Unhappy, Staying, but Not Stagnating

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The consulting firm Accenture drew some attention recently with a survey of 3,400 business professionals in 29 countries that found that fewer than half of the respondents were satisfied with their current jobs. Men and women showed a similar level of discontent: only 42 and 43 percent reported job satisfaction.

The respondents showed a slightly greater gender divide when they identified the reasons for their frustration: being underpaid (cited by 47 percent of women versus 44 percent of men); a lack of opportunity for growth (36 percent versus 32 percent); no opportunity for career advancement (33 percent versus 34 percent); and feeling trapped (29 percent versus 32 percent).

For me, the most interesting finding was that nearly three-quarters (70 percent of women and 69 percent of men) plan to stay with their companies. The headline that many news services used for their coverage of the survey was something like “Unhappy Workers Do Little About It, Says Survey.”

But the research actually found the workers showing quite a bit of initiative. More than half of respondents (59 percent of women and 57 percent of men), say that, this year, in an effort to enhance their careers, they will work on developing their knowledge and/or a skill set to achieve their career objectives.

It’s no surprise that so many are planning to stay with their present employer. The economy is not offering a wealth of job openings in many, perhaps most of the countries surveyed. But another factor that is easily overlooked is the size of the companies that were surveyed: medium to large. Such employers may be expected to offer a modicum of opportunities for internal job movement, even in a slow economy. I expect that a survey of people at small companies would find more workers who are looking elsewhere for green grass.

Dissatisfied workers like the ones uncovered by this survey were some of the people I had in mind when I wrote 2011 Career Plan. My boss at JIST Publishing, Sue Pines, suggested that I model it on Suze Orman’s Action Plan, and I made a point of using a tone that is much more pushy (although I prefer the more positive and classier-sounding “hortative”) than I’ve ever used in my previous writing.

The idea is to goad readers into taking action. I want readers to commit to a specific career goal, whether it is achieving greater security in their present job (“Safeguarding”), seeking a promotion (“Climbing”), moving to another employer, but in the same occupation and industry (“Decamping”), moving to another employer and industry, but in the same occupation (“Revamping”), or switching to a new employer and a new occupation (“Reinventing”). For each goal, I suggest a strategy and specific action steps for pursuing that strategy.

For example, if acquiring better skills is part of the strategy (as it should be for the many Accenture-surveyed workers who want to climb the ladder at their present company), I identify ways to build skills, with tools that readers can use, such as the text of an e-mail that requests a skill-testing work assignment.

One of the premises of 2011 Career Plan is that this is a good year to take career-building action because job opportunities in the United States are finally starting to improve. When I wrote the book, in 2010, there was still a considerable amount of fear that a double-dip recession would reverse the few employment gains that had materialized by then. Since that time, however, my optimism is starting to look warranted. This month we are seeing much more encouraging news about job growth. The unemployment rate finally fell below 9 percent in February. The drop of almost one percent over the previous three-month period was the largest our economy has seen in nearly 28 years.

There are still some worries that rising oil prices will dampen economic growth (one more reason we need to shift to a green-energy economy!), but on balance 2011 looks like the time when dissatisfied workers--or anybody concerned about job security--should be making an action plan and taking steps to put it into effect.


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