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How has the Great Recession Changed the Workforce?

By Melissa J. Anderson

According to a recent study by Robert Half international, the economic recession has changed the views of individuals in the workforce on career progression, compensation, and retirement. And, the study continued, workers of all age groups have revised their views on what makes a good job.

The study says, “No matter how economic conditions shift, now is the time to start rewarding the efforts of individuals among all generations. Companies that actively develop attractive employee programs and identify clear career paths for their top performers will be prepared for growth as the business climate improves.”

The study polled 1,453 working adults, including 502 hiring managers in the United States and Canada and points out ways employers can continue to motivate employees even though times are tough. By engaging workers now, employers can work to avoid attrition when the economy gets better.

Changing Retirement Intentions

One of the most striking findings of the report focused on retirement. According to the study, 46% of people plan to work well into the age when people have traditionally retired (51 percent in the US and 31 percent in Canada).

That sentiment was shared across generations. Over half (54 percent) of baby boomer said they will work past retirement age, and 46 percent of Gen X employees said the same. Over a third (39 percent) of the youngest employees said they’d have to work longer because of the recession.

Almost three quarters (70 percent) blamed the economy for their decision to work longer. And, the study added, “Thirty-one percent of workers say they are investing or saving more money toward retirement.” Workers in the US seemed to be harder hit by the effects of the recession than those in Canada regarding postponing retirement age – while 39 percent of Americans said the recession had a “very strong impact” on their decision to work longer, only 13 percent of Canadians said the same. Less than a quarter of Americans said the recession had had “no impact” on their decision to work longer, compared to almost half (47 percent) of Canadians.

RHI recommends that employers take a look at how they can attract and retain those employees who will be in the workforce longer as they near retirement.

“Some professionals near retirement age may be attracted to shorter workweeks or consulting arrangements. Companies that wish to hire these experienced workers should consider offering alternative work arrangements that allow these professionals to keep one foot in the workforce while also exploring their hobbies and interests.”

By working with the needs of older workers, companies can keep experienced individuals engaged.

Downsizing and Productivity

The study revealed that employees and managers had different views on how being forced to do more with less has changed the workforce.

According to the poll, “all generations rank working for a stable company and having a strong sense of job security as most important in their current work environment.”

Nevertheless, 40 percent of employees say they intend to look for new jobs outside their current company. Why? They may feel frustrated that they are giving more than they’re getting.

“Employees surveyed said they feel their compensation has not kept pace with the amount of work they’re doing. More than one-third of workers believe they have yet to be fairly compensated for the extra work they performed during leaner times,” the study says.

On the other hand, hiring managers see the recession as an exercise in efficiency. Half (50 percent) say they expect productivity levels to rise as the economy improves – possibly because their employees have identified new, better, cheaper ways of working. “Of that number,” the report continues, “41 percent said their employees are working smarter; 19 percent attributed productivity gains to employees working longer hours.”

Additionally, the study showed, the usage of temporary workers has increased as well – almost a quarter (24 percent) said they are using more temp and project professionals. Almost the same percentage (27 percent) of managers said they are using temp and project professionals “as a buffer” to help employees handle rising workloads.

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