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Recession-weary workers tire of job-hopping

By Mark Tutton, for CNN
Job-hopping workers are looking to settle down with one employer, according to a new study.
Job-hopping workers are looking to settle down with one employer, according to a new study.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Global study shows a third of workers want 'a job for life'
  • Workers hope for promotion and training with their firm
  • Instead of advancement, employers offer chance to develop 'portfolio of skills'

London, England (CNN) -- Recession-weary workers have replaced their job-hopping ambitions with dreams of a job for life, according to a study.

The 2010 Global Workforce Study, carried out by professional services company Towers Watson, surveyed 20,000 employees in 22 countries.

It paints a picture of a workforce craving stability and job security. A third of respondents said they wanted to work for a single company for their entire career and another third said they wanted to work for no more than two to three companies.

Yves Duhaldeborde, managing director of Towers Watson, told CNN, "The results are different from studies in previous years. People are saying they want to stay put in their jobs and are going back to basics in terms of the deal between them and their employer.

"There's probably quite a lot of realism, a feeling of 'why try to move? I've got a secure job, some stability -- maybe if I stay put my ambitions will get realized in the organization I work for.'"

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Stephen Overell, associate director of The Work Foundation, a UK research organization, said he was not surprised by the findings.

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"People always crave security and a very important aspect of having a good quality job is to feel secure in it," he told CNN.

"The complicating factor is that the recession must have driven up worries about job security. In the short-term I'm sure more people are worried about their jobs."

But he added that the idea there had ever been a generation of job-hopping free agents had been exaggerated.

I think people have always been worried about the possibility of losing their job.
--Stephen Overell, The Work Foundation
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"A favorite remark of HR professionals is 'the job for life is no more,' as if there was ever a golden-age of job security," he said.

"I don't think that was ever the case. I think people have always been worried about the possibility of losing their job."

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But Duhaldeborde said there was a worrying gap between what workers wanted and what employers were delivering. The study found 76 percent of employees regarded a secure and stable position as important, while only 51 percent saw it as achievable within their current organization.

The research also indicated workers were hoping for training and promotions within their company -- at a time when both were disappearing.

With streamlined organizations, and fewer workers willing or able to change jobs, the study points to fewer opportunities for advancement. At the same time, financial pressures have forced employers to cut training budgets.

"Organizations need to be quite creative in value proposition to employees in terms of saying, 'we don't have the opportunities to move up the hierarchy but we'll still give you a very rich experience in terms of moving you internally to a job with different scope, or to another region, or looking after another set of clients,'" said Duhaldeborde.

"That's a real challenge because bright new talents within an organization want to have that feeling that they're moving up the scale and that they're not stuck at a certain level doing the same tasks."

Duhaldeborde said the realities of the recession-era workplace mean employees have changed the way they view advancement. While 61 percent of workers took the traditional view of advancement as making more money, half the respondents said they saw advancement in terms of acquiring new skills.

"People are getting the idea of developing a portfolio of skills and being more marketable in the job market," he said.

"Quite a few organizations are very smart in doing that. They say to potential employees, 'come to us, we'll give you an opportunity to develop skills that will be very useful to you.' That's one way to get employee engagement really high in young, talented employees."

The need to negotiate

While many businesses have had to cut back on formal training programs, Duhaldeborde said the more forward-thinking organizations were offering cross training, giving employees the chance to gain skills working in different areas within the company.

Overell argued it was also in employers' best interests to provide workers with "functional flexibility" -- the ability to perform different tasks within the organization.

"Now the economy is picking up I think employers are keen to keep their workers and train them to do different things," he told CNN.

"With a more skilled workforce people are more expensive to train and more valuable to their employer. Once they know the organization they have organizational knowledge you don't want to lose."

Duhaldeborde also warned that as the economy improves, employers may struggle to hold onto workers who no longer feel the same craving for stability.

"In my opinion, that desire for security will change when economic conditions get better.

"Some people will be content to maximize their knowledge and experience within the organization, but people who are talented may try to maximize salary by moving jobs. I think organizations have to be ready for that."