Employees Refocus on Stabilizing Income and Benefits During Down Economy

January 15, 2009 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Economic strain and fear of losing their jobs seems to have employees shifting their focus from maximizing career advancement and incentive opportunities to securing basic pay and benefit packages, according to Towers Perrin research.

Towers Perrin conducted a survey online between December 3 and December 11, 2008, targeting U.S.-based employees of midsize and large companies, updating an earlier online survey conducted by Towers Perrin in August 2008, and found significant shifts in workforce sentiment in just four months. Emmett Seaborn, a Towers Perrin principal and head of intellectual capital development for the firm’s Human Capital Group, pointed out in a press release that 76% of the respondents in the December survey agreed they were personally motivated to help their company succeed, compared to 69% who said so in August.

According to the press release, job security and long-term earning potential are now the key concerns for respondents. Forty-five percent of those polled believe they face greater risk that their job will change or be eliminated, and 55% believe the risk that their future earnings will plateau or decline has increased as well.

When polled on the factors most important to their work experience, respondents put a “secure position they can count on for the long term” at the top of the list (59% ranked that among their top five, up from 46% in August 2008). Having adequate benefit protection for themselves and their families moved into the number two slot from number four previously, with 56% putting this in the top five in December, compared with only 37% in August. Working for a successful organization with a strong future broke onto the list of top five factors for the first time, while maximizing earnings fell from the top-five list.

The shift in employees’ priorities may not only be coming from a fear of layoffs, but from the realization that they may have to change retirement plans. Nearly two-thirds of those polled believe they face a much greater risk that they will not be able to afford to retire when they want to. Even more telling, Towers Perrin says, 14% of those polled in August said they planned to retire in the next few years. In December, that number dropped to 9%.

On a positive note, the changing business environment seems to be drawing employees and management closer. Close to half (46%) of respondents agreed their company’s senior management tries to be visible and accessible to employees, up from 41% previously. Thirty-seven percent agreed their senior leaders communicated openly and honestly with employees (up from 32%), and 36% felt their leaders had a sincere interest in employees’ well-being (up from 30%).