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With so many dynamics impacting the business environment, the slew of employee-employer surveys to gauge workplace sentiment may come as no surprise. But what may be surprising is a troubling trend revealed by two published recently: the significant perception gap that exists between employers and those who work for them.  

Here, we’ll take a bird’s eye view of results — as well as what experts say is needed to create an environment in which workers will grow, thrive, and stay. 

A “critical moment of talent stagnation”

On April 2, the University of Phoenix Career Institute® released its 2024 Career Optimism Index® — which is described as a “comprehensive study examining the state of American workers’ career trajectories and sentiments about the future of their job and career opportunities.”

This is the fourth consecutive year the study has been conducted, and the results weren’t pretty. They revealed that in the workplace, both workers and employers are dealing with a “critical moment of talent stagnation.”

“More than half (53%) of Americans report feeling easily replaceable in their job position and 64% of workers say their company does not offer opportunities for internal mobility,” according to the press release. “Meanwhile, 44% of employers say their top challenge to finding talent in the past year is a lack of well-qualified applicants. These findings indicate that employers are not looking internally and, thus, overlooking the potential to upskill and elevate their existing workforce to solve business needs, hindering talent progression for both workers and organizations.” 

Perspectives of workers

Overall, worker sentiments revealed that although things have been difficult — and that they don’t see their opportunities the same as their employers do — the vast majority believe in themselves and their ability to positively impact their career trajectory with the right type of support. Specifics findings include:

  • The last year of “layoffs, strikes, and economic uncertainty” has made things difficult: “42% reportedly worry about losing their job due to a bad economy and 38% of workers agree that their salary or wage has not increased at the same rate as inflation. Additionally, Americans have a negative outlook on their financial security, with 42% saying they can afford less now than they could two years ago.”
  • Over half (53%) of those surveyed believe they could be easily replaced: “A third of workers don’t feel recognized by their company’s leadership for their contributions (30%) and 27% do not feel empowered in their current job.”
  • A “wide disconnect” exists when it comes to “employer perceptions and worker realities” regarding advancement opportunities: “While 62% of employers say their company currently offers opportunities for internal mobility, only 36% of workers agree. Additionally, 90% of employers say their company provides workers with opportunities for career development, but only 69% of workers agree this is their experience.”
  • Workers believe they need to continue to acquire new skills and place high value on employer investment in helping them to do so: “74% say they must continuing learning new skills to stay ahead in their career and most say if their company did more to upskill (66%) or reskill (65%) them, and gave more opportunities to apply new skills (69%), they would be more likely to stay throughout their career.”
  • Lack of career support leads to feelings of stagnation: “Workers are more than twice as likely to feel like they do not have the ability to advance in their career at their current job when their company does not currently provide a mentorship program (49% vs. 18%), skills development opportunities (55% vs. 23%), internal mobility (55% vs. 19%), or career path guidelines (53% vs. 19%).”
  • But workers are still optimistic about their potential, believing in themselves to “propel the future of their careers”: “78% of Americans are hopeful about the future of their career and 72% feel in control of their professional future.”

Perspectives of employers 

Employers who participated in the survey indicated that hiring is down and that when they do recruit, they’re looking for the “perfect match” for the skills needed — but not having much luck among external candidates.  

  • Reduced hiring: “62% say their company has experienced slowed or declining hiring over the past year through hiring freezes, layoffs, restructuring, etc. Only 19% say their company expects to hire 51+ people over the next year (vs. 25% in 2023).”
  • Longer time to hire: “51% of employers report that in the past year, it took one month or more to fill an empty position at their company.”
  • Lack of qualified candidates to hire: “Employers report the top challenge to finding talent in the past year was a lack of well-qualified external applicants (44%).”

“As U.S. companies cut jobs and reduce expenses, they are fixating on the next best thing available to them outside of their organization to drive growth. This perspective is perpetuating a stagnant talent environment,” said John Woods, Provost and Chief Academic Officer, University of Phoenix. “Our Career Optimism Index® illustrates that business leaders are overlooking the immense potential of the workforce within their own organizations, who remain resilient and optimistic despite the macro environment. These workers possess a significant desire to advance and acquire the skillsets employers are seeking to fortify their businesses for the future.”

Further details are available here

“Burned out and checked out”

Along a similar vein, the recently released results of workplace research conducted by The Harris Poll on behalf of The Grossman Group also revealed concerning findings.   

“The constant pace of change and a variety of new demands are contributing to widespread burnout among employees and managers today,” according to the press release.

Conducted in January 2024, the survey of 2,086 employees was “designed to gauge the extent to which American workers are thriving, burned out, or ambivalent, as well as what drives those emotional states. The survey also considered how to help move more employees from a burned-out or ambivalent state to a thriving one.”

Similar to the findings of the other survey we’re covering, this one also found a major mismatch between employer and employee perceptions. 

“More than 75% of employees and 63% of managers report feeling burned out or ambivalent in their current position,” according to the press release. “Yet managers aren’t recognizing just how overwhelmed their employees feel, with 89% saying their employees are thriving compared to the actual thriving figure of 24%. That’s more than a 3-to-1 discrepancy.”

For both groups, the most significant burnout contributor cited was “a great deal of constant change.” Additional factors included:

  • “Unnecessary work from senior leadership”
  • “Employees frequently having to shift focus throughout the day”
  • “High turnover rates that often lead to even more work for those left behind”

“These findings are a wake-up call. Clearly, employees are not okay and yet that’s often not recognized by senior leadership or the frontline leaders whose job it is to support and engage their teams,” said David Grossman, founder and CEO of The Grossman Group.

On the flip side, Grossman also noted that leaders need more support themselves in order to help their employees. 

“Managers have been asked to lead employees through this permacrisis we find ourselves in today with empathy, and yet they still face greater responsibilities and heightened productivity pressure, often with fewer resources and smaller teams,” Grossman said. “All of this is happening without the personal support and flexibility they need to thrive.”

Key findings of the research include:

  • Burnout across the board: Over 75% of employees and 63% of managers reported burnout
  • Perception gap related to well-being: “89% of managers report their employees are thriving; just 24% of employees say they are actually thriving”
  • Managers play a critical role to help employees move “from burned out and checked out to thriving”: Employees who say they are thriving cite a manager who is “invested in their success” as a top indicator
  • Senior leadership is pivotal in creating a thriving workforce: “Senior leadership that provides clear direction and authentic communication is a top indicator of thriving employees.”
  • A primary driver of burnout is constant change, with organizations paying the price: “Constant change is taking a toll, with employees and managers reporting that senior leaders are creating unnecessary work and forcing employees to shift focus throughout the day, inhibiting focus and productivity.”
  • Younger Generations have “heightened burnout indicators”: “Younger Generation employees are nearly 3x more likely than Older Generations to say that interpersonal conflict hinders working conditions and drives feelings of burnout (16%). They are more than 2x as likely than Older Generations to cite a toxic work environment (16%) and communication overload as contributing to burnout (17%).”

“The responses of employees and managers demonstrate that leaders at all levels have a role to play in creating a stronger culture of thriving. Starting from the top and moving down through the ranks of managers, a focus on well-being should be purposeful and intentional, not left to chance,” Grossman said.For additional details, view the report.

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