From Job Hopping to Career Monogamy

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Not long ago, a job wasn’t expected to be much more than a fling—a mutually beneficial arrangement that lasted maybe a couple of years, if all was going well. Workers hopped from job to job in the ’90s and early ’00s like swingers hopped from bed to bed in the ’70s. In the era of the Great Recession, however, workers are eager to stay put in long-term relationships, even if that means a situation that’s less fulfilling, less rewarding, and less exciting than playing the field.

A survey conducted by HR consulting firm Towers Watson, reported on by Reuters and the WSJ among other outlets, basically says that workers who are lucky enough to still be collecting paychecks may feel unhappy and stifled, but they’re not antsy enough to switch jobs—not in the currently awful economic climate. From the WSJ:

Some 43% of respondents believe they can only advance if they leave their current job. But 44% say they have no plans to leave their job because stability is more important to them. More than half, 51% felt that there was no clear path toward advancement at their current employer.

[Towers Watson managing principle Max] Caldwell says the survey was meant to capture “how the recession impacted employees attitudes.”

That echoes a recent Conference Board report, based on a survey of 5,000 U.S. households which found only 45% of those people were satisfied with their jobs, down from 61% in 1987, the first year in which the survey was conducted.

“We’ve found that since the recession, people are ‘burrowing in,’ ” Mr. Caldwell says. “Instead of looking elsewhere for higher pay or the better position, people are craving stability.”

Also:

Some 33% of respondents want to work for one company forever, a figure that surprised Mr. Caldwell and is a sea change from the job-hopping that was a hallmark of the early 2000s.

We’re burrowing in—like animals do during hurricanes, or populations at war do when faced with an air assault. The Reuters piece describes the beleaguered workforce as the “walking wounded,” and cites the figure that 30% of U.S. workers now plan on working past the age of 70.

The environment is obviously not good for employees, though having a job—any job—is undeniably better than not having one. But this sort of environment can’t be good for employers either. While stability has its advantages, happy employees are better, more productive workers.

At some point, workers will come out from their burrows to scout out the jobs landscape. For folks who are currently unemployed, this means that they’ll be competing for jobs not only with the rest of the unemployed masses, but with what’s apparently a huge number of unhappily employed masses as well.

For now, however, it looks like the formerly frisky job hopper is too scared to make a move, like a swinger too scared to swap partners because of STDs. If you’ve got a job, in all likelihood you’re staying put and waiting out the storm, even though everyone knows that with no risk, there’s no reward. Then again, with no risk, there’s no risk.

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