Survey: 50% of Workers Would Change Jobs to Be Recognized For Their Efforts

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This week here at the annual HR Technology conference in Las Vegas, I did a video interview with John Sumser of HR Examiner fame. One of our discussion points: how unhappy are workers today, and what are employers and employees doing about it?

John and I disagreed about this a bit. I said that all these surveys that show workers ready and willing to bolt for a new job point to a huge disengagement problem for organizations, the result of such terrible people management practices during the Great Recession and beyond.

My friend John Sumser took a more pragmatic view: so what if they are unhappy? There are not a lot of jobs out there, and unhappy or not, these workers have nowhere they can really go, so does it really matter that they keep saying how ready they are to leave?

Insights into the current pulse of the worker

I’m a sucker for a pragmatic argument, so I agree somewhat with Sumser’s view, but I also believe that whether employees CAN leave or not is besides the point. That’s because it can’t be good for companies that employees are so disengaged that they SAY they are ready and willing to bolt. That can’t be a good value proposition for anyone.

You can weigh in on either side of this argument — and I hope you will in a comment below — but here’s one more example of what I’m talking about — another survey, this time from Globoforce, that shows clearly that “employees are less satisfied in their current job and feel less appreciated for the work they do.”

Here are the highlights from the September 2011 Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker, asemi-annual survey provides key insights into the current pulse of the U.S. worker.”

  • Some 38 percent of employees are actively looking for a new job, up from 36 percent in the last survey.
  • 39 percent of workers don’t feel appreciated at work, up from 32 percent.
  • 52 percent are dissatisfied with the level of recognition they receive, up from 41 percent.
  • Only 24 percent are satisfied with the level of recognition they receive at work. Conversely, 63 percent of employees who have no plans of leaving are satisfied with their level of recognition.
  • 32 percent say they have been recognized at work in the past three months. By contrast, 52 percent of those who have no intention of leaving had been recognized in the past three months.
  • 78 percent of U.S. workers said being recognized for their good work motivates them in their job.
  • 69 percent felt they would work harder if they felt their efforts were better recognized.

The need to avoid a “thankless recovery”

These are interesting numbers, and they point to the huge disconnect workers have with their companies and how they feel about their job. And make no mistake: the latest Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker survey found that “nearly half of all surveyed said they would leave their current job for a company that clearly recognized employees for their efforts and contributions.”

If that doesn’t speak to a huge issue for organizations everywhere, I don’t know what does.

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“It’s been often stated that we’re in the midst of a jobless recovery,” said Eric Mosley, CEO of Globoforce, in a press release about the survey. “While that may be true, it’s critical for companies to avoid a ‘thankless recovery’ for their current employees, as that could have damaging consequences on employee productivity, company culture, and employee retention. Our latest survey shows that if you recognize and appreciate your employees in relevant ways, they will want to continue to work for you.”

The Globoforce Workforce Mood Tracker study was commissioned by Globoforce and conducted on August 5-6, 2011, by independent market research firm MarketTools, Inc., through an online panel of fully employed persons (age 18 or older) at companies with 500 plus employees in the United States. There were 630 responses generated for the survey, resulting in a margin of error of +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95 percent level of confidence.

It doesn’t matter if you agree with me or with John Sumser — although I would love to get you thoughts on that below in the comments — but it is clear to me from this survey that organizations everywhere need to do really get serious about re-engaging with their employees.

After three plus years of furloughs, cutbacks, layoffs pay freezes (and even pay cuts), workers are fed up and perhaps not giving the organizations they work for their full and best effort. Even if they are muddling through, they are unhappy and ready to leave, and that has got to be a red flag for C-Suite executives and HR pros everywhere — if they are willing to listen and do something about it.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


7 Comments on “Survey: 50% of Workers Would Change Jobs to Be Recognized For Their Efforts

  1. It is interesting to read the numbers and wonder if these employees work for public or private companies. I would be interested to see the survey results for public companies

  2. I’m not going to even bother to try and pull all of the survey data to back up what I’m about to say, but it is WELL DOCUMENTED via multiple surveys, performance indicators, financial reports, etc… that low employee satisfaction = low employee motivation = lower bottom line results for the company.

    John is in the same camp as Jerry Albright on these topics and while I’m very much a realist too (and is why you don’t hear me hyping about engagement on social and instead decrying the hype & yes, pointing to job distrubtion & SEO that allow me to actually get apps & hires vs. just the warm fuzzies) HOWEVER, we can argue the intrinsic value of motivation all day long or could even go so far as to say there is no correlation between low employee satisfaction and company performance and call it coincidence, but there are some things that go beyond just the numbers. I’ve had the misfortune of being the senior HR person in those companies in which our surveys were predominantly negative (funny thing happens when almost all of your employee hates your leadership… the completion rate on an engagement survey skyrockets). I’ve seen the look in the employees eyes, I’ve seen the [craptastic] quality of work, I’ve had grown men cry in my office multiple times, I’ve seen entire departments implode, and I KNOW damn well that those employees aren’t even on their C game and the company takes a direct hit as a result. How can they not? When your employees do just the bare minimum to get by? Your sales take a hit, your customer service goes in the toilet, your customers – go elsewhere.

    The unfortunate thing is the unintended residual impacts when vendors get in on it and stop doing business with the company. And yes, you read that right… vendors stopped taking our money and refused to work with one company I was at… and guess what, I was right there with every other employee who hated my job, but given my role – it ate at the core of my soul because I walked into a company who said they needed someone like me, but at the end of the day it was only lip service, HR was still just the necessary evil & while I made a lot of positive changes – I was still one person trying to save a failing ship that (shocking) I wasn’t invested in enough to care anymore. I got out and ran like hell.

    1. Not letting me edit… but to clarify, I’m referring to John Sumser, not Hollon!

      My closing thought for Sumser, which has always been my main piece of wisdom for my senior leadership is this: “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

      1. Carrie: I love your passion about this, and I agree completely. Your spot on point — that there are numerous studies connecting higher (or lower) ROI and profitability with higher (or lower) employee engagement — is one I made to John Sumser during our discussion.

        But to be fair to Sumser, I think he was largely reacting to my comment that there are numerous surveys (including this one today) showing that employees are fed up, disengaged, and ready to bolt. His pragmatism was more focused on the very real argument that essentially says, “fed up or not, where are they going when the economy and unemployment is what it is?” 

        But, that just helps make your case (and mine) that you eloquently state here. Disengaged workers who WANT to leave but can’t may be worse for an organization than having employees bolt. Companies have a lot of work to do in this regard. My question is: why aren’t more of them aggressively doing it?

  3. Employees have no place to go? That may be true for the mediocre employees but not for the high performing ones. One of my clients just accepted a great job offer, another was actively looking for another opportunity when his company finally promoted him.

    A leader (as opposed to someone who just holds a leadership title) does not take team members for granted. Companies need more leaders and they need to understand that employee complacency just might have something to do with the culture of the company and the lack of real leadership.

  4. Having lived this kind of question for almost 40 years I know that engaged employees are more productive and committed. Engaging employees usually doesn’t need to cost a lot of money. Resources required are mostly management planning time and effort. For example, a few years ago we significantly reduced regretted attrition among our new university grads by strengthening our on-boarding and mentorship programs. Company leadership must also require that management implement a disciplined performance appraisal system that identifies and deals with exceptional performance at either end of the spectrum. Nobody wants to see outstanding and above average performance go unrecognized nor do people want to work in an organization that does not address poor performance. It has always intrigued me how often that the reward of more work for a stronger performer leads to a more engaged employee.

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