Two Views of How Employees (and their Managers) Are Feeling Right Now

With the summer finally in full gear (and those of you living in the Eastern Time Zone know what I’m talking about), it’s time to step back and ask a simple question: how are the people who work for me doing?

Yes, it’s a simple question, but here are two very different responses.

One answer is that your employees are finally feeling they can take a well deserved summer break. According to a survey released this week that was conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of Adecco Staffing US, an overwhelming majority of employees (78 percent) are not concerned about their job security if they take a vacation this summer — a possible sign, according to Adecco, that confidence is increasing in the workplace as the economy continues to rebound.

In addition, the survey finds that employees are looking to “unplug” while they’re away on vacation, and that only 37 percent plan to connect with the office via cell or email while they’re away this summer – further evidence that workers are finally feeling more stable and confident in their jobs.

“As Summer 2010 kicks off and the economy continues to show renewed promise of recovery, employees are looking to enjoy the summer season without the worry and fear of losing their job,” said Rich Thompson, vice president of learning and performance at Adecco Group North America, in a press release accompanying the survey. “This likely indicates employees feeling a renewed confidence in the economy, and (that) increased feelings of job security in the workplace are returning.”

There are other signs in the survey that workers are feeling more confident, but you get the picture. Despite the sluggish economic recovery, it appears that workers are feeling good enough about things to finally take some time off.

How is employee morale, anyway?

However, there is another perspective and it comes courtesy of the latest Employment Trends survey that was also conducted by Harris Interactive (jeez, maybe polling is a good, recession-proof business to get into, no?) for the good people over at CareerBuilder . This study, conducted in late May and early June of 2,534 private sector hiring managers and 4,498 employees, didn’t ask about summer vacations, but instead, how workers felt about their job and career.

When asked the question “How would you rate your organization’s employee morale today?”, 30 percent of employees said it was “high or very high” while another 30 percent said it was “low or very low.” Hiring managers, however, were a lot more positive in their response, with some 38 percent saying employee morale was “high or very high” and only 22 percent feeling it was “low or very low.”

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I’m not surprised by the employee response, except perhaps that those saying “low or very low” might be a lot larger. What caught by eye, though, was the gap between what employees and their managers felt when asked the morale question. Managers felt that morale was a lot better than their workers thought it was, and that reality gap between what workers and managers feel is pretty troubling.

HR managers are worried

What’s also troubling is the feeling among managers when asked the question “Are you concerned that your best talent may start looking for another job once the economy improves?” Some 42 percent of hiring managers in the CareerBuilder survey said yes to that question – a pretty big number, I think – while 58 percent said no.

But here’s the kicker: when this same question was asked of HR managers, some 56 percent said they were worried about their best talent looking to leave once things get better economically. Given that you can reasonably expect HR professionals to be a lot more plugged into the mood and mindset of the workforce, they probably have a much better perspective on this – and that’s not a pretty sight.

The CareerBuilder Employment Trends survey hasn’t been officially released just yet (and I thank them for sharing some of the findings with me), but here’s what I take away from these two very different studies: Workers are feeling a little bit better this summer, and so much so that they’re finally taking a well-deserved vacation, but a lot of them are also thinking about  finding a new job once the economy truly starts to improve. Hiring managers seem somewhat clueless about this, but their HR managers aren’t – and they’re worried about the prospect of losing their best people in the not-too-distant future.

Think this is just doom and gloom? Perhaps, but I consider it more of a wake-up call, a reminder that there is still a lot of hard management and HR work to be done to help get companies, and the people who really make them go, through this recovery period and into the next growth stage to come.

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.


3 Comments on “Two Views of How Employees (and their Managers) Are Feeling Right Now

  1. John,
    Thanks for sharing these results with us (particularly the CareerBuilder results, since they're not out yet). I started drafting a brief comment to your post, and got a bit carried away. Instead of bogging down your page, I posted on The Seamless Workforce. I think, in general, the implications of these survey results are troubling. I welcome your thoughts/response if you get the chance.

    Tammy Miller

  2. Tammy: I responded to your comment below on your Seemless Workforce blog at Yoh, but I thought I should also put it here for TLNT readers…

    I completely agree that workers are tired after a couple of years of relentlessly bad economic news. That people are finally taking vacation (and not worrying as much about it) makes sense.

    But the CareerBuilder figures surprise me a bit, because managers and executives should have a good handle on morale in their organizations. The gap between how the rank-and-file feels and how management feels is a little scary.

    Still, I'm reminded by friends and colleagues of a company I have a passing familiarity with, one that decided to cut wages, a holiday bonus that had been given annually for decades, and a lot of jobs without really talking much to anyone about it.

    There was little communication about what was going on inside the company, even from HR, and top leadership seemed to be indifferent about the impact on morale. The feeling that came down from the top was that no one should worry about unhappy workers because there was no place for them to go — and even if a few actually managed to leave, there was a world of workers out there waiting to take their place.

    There may be a lot of companies that took that stance, and if so, it explains the worker-management gap in the CareerBuilder survey.

    By the way, that company I know a little about seems to be hemmoraging a lot of talent right now. So it goes when you don't communicate openly, frankly, and frequently with your workforce — even in a bad economy.

  3. John: My comment placed here and on The Seamless Workforce as well…

    Thanks, John. You point out some key factors that would segue nicely into subsequent blog posts.

    Communication gaps and leadership indifference will have a huge impact on retention. In difficult economic times, leadership has a tendency to take talent for granted – everyone is “easily” replaced. “Easily” is relative and talent acquisition comes at a cost…Not simply recruiting, but transition and knowledge transfer.

    It seems to me that the human element is gone. I remember back to my military days when “manpower” was renamed “human resources.” It had a more personal touch and a better representation of the mission and vision of that organization. Do we need to come up with something to replace titles – “manager,” “director,” or even “CEO” – to drive the message that human capital is a company's greatest asset?

    At this point, we are outsourcing and off-shoring so much that I can see how easily human capital can be dismissed. It's disheartening, and I look forward to the pendulum swinging back to days when talent wasn't taken for granted. Perhaps that alone would resolve some of the economic issues we face.

    Large investments for a company are often capitalized over five years. As a result, millions of dollars are justified for maintenance to care for the long-term investment. Total cost of ownership for something that will be replaced within a decade is sometimes unspeakable.

    We should be handling human capital with the kid gloves.

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