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Gallagher: Burnt-out workers biding time
Gallagher

Gallagher: Burnt-out workers biding time

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Stressed worker
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Some day, America's shrunken job market is going to boom again. When that happens, expect a "tsunami of résumés" hitting HR offices around the country, along with a thunderous pounding of feet as dissatisfied employees head out their employers' door for good.

So says Dr. Ronald Leopold, vice president of U.S. Business for MetLife.

The insurance firm surveyed 1,400 employees and 1,500 business executives last fall on their work attitudes. The American worker, they found, is ticked off and hoping to bail out.

"This year's findings reveal a workforce that has grown more dissatisfied and disloyal, to the point where a startling one in three employees hopes to be working elsewhere in the next 12 months," the study said.

That's not surprising after three years of recession, layoffs, wage cuts and benefit reductions. Some companies treat employees like light bulbs. Burn them out; throw them away.

"Employees aren't feeling the love," says Leopold. Instead, they're feeling the whip. According to the study, 40 percent of us worked harder last year, while 25 percent felt less secure in their jobs.

"These burnt-out employees are the most likely to say that they hope to be working elsewhere in 2011," the study said.

For the moment, employers can ignore this. There aren't many jobs to flee to.

Workers "hold on like little barnacles to the side of the ship when things are bad. As soon as things loosen up, they'll go," says Rose Jonas, who bills her Clayton career coaching business as the Job Doctor.

Employers are still concentrating on cutting costs (you and I are costs), and not worrying much about how they'll retain workers when the boom resumes.

That might be a mistake. "When people leave an organization, the top achievers leave first," notes David Hults, a Sunset Hills career coach.

Unemployment is coming down — to 8.8 percent in March from 9.7 a year earlier. Still, that's a long way from full employment and the pace of improvement may be slowing.

Employees should be giving some thought to whether it's time to start looking.

Hults, author of the book "From Cornered to Corner Office," says there are four ways that workers find themselves trapped in bad jobs.

Some sell themselves short. They don't apply for jobs they'd like, thinking they're underqualified, then marvel when a peer lands the prize.

Some are cornered by their own industry. It may be shrinking away (newspaper reporters can identify), or it is changing fast and workers let their skills lag behind.

Employees can fix weak confidence and skills. But they can't change an ill-fitting corporate culture.

Find out why certain people get promoted, Hults advises. They may say, "We love her because she'll work 80 hours a week." If you want a life outside the office, that's not the employer for you.

Still other workers are made miserable by fellow employees or bosses. Personalities clash. "You can't function in your job because of the people. They don't play well with others," says Hults.

Some organizations prefer torture to termination. Jonas has a client, a female technology worker in north St. Louis County, who thinks she's being set up for failure. "She's been given a job she can't do and she believes the organization is trying to get rid of her," says Jonas.

All that can lead to frustration. Ask yourself, "Am I just mad today, or is it really time to go?" says Jonas. "If you can't stand waking up in the morning; if you don't go to lunch with people at work anymore; if you're going late to meetings, and if you feel that way for three to six months, it's probably not going to change."

Jonas has seen people opt for misery in order to keep a big paycheck. But most will want to move on.

If it's time to go, network, network, network. You're more likely to find a good job through people you know than from the classifieds, say Jonas and Hults.

Join professional organizations. Sign up for LinkedIn.com, the business social networking site. Chat up friends and acquaintances.

Prepare for rejection. "This is lonely work. It's hard work. It sucks to look for a job," says Jonas.

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