Is the Balance of Power Starting to Shift to Employees?

Even if burnt-out employees aren’t ready to quit, they certainly are not delivering top-level performance any more.

Since the recession began in earnest, employers first took actions to preserve the company – layoffs, salary freezes and the like. For the most part, employees understood and survivors put aside their guilt to take on multiple roles and additional duties for no additional compensation.

Three years later, the economy is improving and employees are at the end of their ropes. They are burned out, stressed out and fed up. According to a recent Forbes article:

If current economic data is a harbinger of things to come, perhaps corporate America might be a bit more concerned about retention, instead of burning workers to a crisp. Let’s break down the numbers:

  • Unemployment fell for a fourth time in a row to 8.5%, its lowest point in nearly three years.
  • There’s been an uptick in the number of Americans quitting their jobs since the recession began in December of 2007, according to the Labor Department.
  • The BNA Annual Economic Forecast, (BNA tracks and analyzes legal, regulatory and business information) shows the U.S. economy improving, albeit with limited job creation, expected to increase in the second half. Also, modest gains in private sector workers’ hourly compensation.
  • The rate of layoffs is lower than any time before the recession.

The rising quit rate may be the first sign that the balance of power is changing in corporate America between the executives and the underlings,’ says Irwin Kellner, Chief Economist for Marketwatch.com.”

Why frustration is high – and what to do about it

It’s true. Employees are at the breaking point, and who can be surprised after all the work they have taken on with no relief in sight? I’ve written regularly that employers have taken advantage of employee “survivors” willingness to do the extra work, labeling it “increased productivity.” But that’s a false metric that is simply not sustainable over time.

As I wrote on the Compensation Café, this and other news clearly point to employee frustration levels reaching the breaking point for three reasons:

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  1. Employees sense more barriers to getting the work done, even as they are asked to do more with less.
  2. Companies sitting on loads of cash and not reinvesting that back into the workforce.
  3. Executive compensation and bonus structures that make no sense – not even to investors.

Be sure to read the Compensation Café post for more on these frustrations and what to do about them:

  1. Knock down the barriers.
  2. Spend the cash and hire people already.
  3. Eliminate ridiculous bonus structures and bring compensation (at all levels) into alignment.

Commentors seemed to think such common sense could never work, sadly. What do you think? Can we bring common sense back to recognition and reward practices?

You can find more from Derek Irvine on his Recognize This! blog.

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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