Workplace Purgatory: Hating the Job, But Reluctant to Quit

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Overworked and poorly paid, today’s workers increasingly wish they could march up to the boss and drop the classic line, “Take this job and shove it.” Given high unemployment rates and the uncertainties in the economy, however, the mantra is more likely: Take any job and suck it up.

A new survey from human-resources consultants Mercer LLC puts the state of affairs bluntly:

Half of all U.S. employees are really not happy.

Roughly one-third of workers are seriously considering leaving their current gigs, up from 23% in 2005. In addition, another 21% of workers say they’re staying put at their jobs, even though their workplaces are pretty awful, with poor management and bad employee morale.

Among the reasons workers are dissatisfied:

*68% rate their benefits as good or very good, down from 75% in 2005

*53% are satisfied with their base down, down from 58% in 2005

*42% say promotions go to the most-qualified workers, up from 29% in 2005

As a result of these conditions — and the fact that no one is surprised anymore when employers lay off workers by the thousands — loyalty to employers is rapidly disappearing, reports the Arizona Republic:

“I don’t think that there is such a thing as loyalty anymore,” said John Challenger, chief executive officer of Challenger Gray and Christmas Inc., a global outplacement firm. Loyalty has been replaced by what Challenger calls “commitment.”

“Loyalty is a thing of the past, in terms of company and employee relationships, because companies can’t promise a long-term job and people think of themselves as free agents,” Challenger said.

At the same time workers are miserable and feel no attachment to their jobs, few employees are bold enough to actually leave those jobs lately. The “job hoppers” have transformed into “career monogamists” for as long as their company keeps paying them salaries.

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According to the Wall Street Journal, 2% of workers voluntarily left their jobs each month before the recession started. In April 2011, however, only 1.4% of employees did so, despite all of the factors that indicate workers are less happy with where they’re working.

Bloomberg Businessweek calculates that since January 2009, 1 million people per month have been hanging on to jobs that they normally would have quit. Added up, through April that’s 28 million workers who have decided against jumping ship. You probably understand why. As the Businessweek story states, what this all means is that no matter how unhappy workers are, they lack confidence in the economy, and aren’t ready to give their bosses ultimatums:

The willingness of employees to quit their jobs “is probably the best single indicator of how confident workers are,” says Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economics professor. “When people are unwilling to quit, they don’t have the leverage to press for wage increases.”

So for now, the typical worker remains in purgatory — clearly unhappy, but also unwilling and/or unable to do much about it.

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