Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Job Market Ready to Unfreeze

The U.S. job market may unfreeze next year, if a recent Manpower survey reported by CNNMoney.com is any indication. In 2010, 60 percent of workers said they would be looking for a new job. That number goes up to 84 percent for 2011. That’s five out of six workers who hope to quit their jobs during the year.

Many businesses will be in peril if worker mobility returns. A slow job market provides a kind of protection for weak workplaces, as the workers there can’t easily move on to other jobs. These companies may be unprepared to replace workers as they depart, and some may not have budgeted enough money to hire qualified workers and train them. From anecdotes, it is clear that many employers have forgotten what it takes to hire people, as they advertise for non-existent skill combinations at blue-collar wages.

But even if competing employers won’t hire workers away, workers will quit eventually anyway — to go back to school, retire (early), start a business of their own, or try their luck as freelancers. Workers who feel stuck tend to cut their spending so they can build the financial strength to make a career move, and that day will be coming for millions of workers every year, whether their employers are ready or not.

If five out of six workers are ready to move on, it could be seem as a sign of low worker morale — but it can also be seen as a sign of workplace stagnation. Workers can see that things could be improved, but businesses aren’t seeing that potential. Businesses may have gone into a holding pattern during the economic slowdown, but workers have continued to advance, so that there is no longer such a good match between workers and businesses. As the job market unfreezes, businesses will have to catch up. This is a challenge that has not come up during the lifetimes of most of the people managing the businesses. Not all businesses are prepared for the adjustments they will need to make.