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Study reveals employee engagement remained stable during the recession

Since the recession began (12/07), the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the U.S. economy has lost more than 8.4 million net jobs, unemployment has risen about 200 percent, job openings have fallen 33 percent, hiring has dropped 19 percent, and people are spending more than 3.5 times longer on the unemployment rolls.

And a new Sirota study shows that this economic environment has had a profound impact on employees. An analysis of survey data from over 3 years, across 23-30 companies and roughly 800,000 employees, shows that many still feel positively about their companies, but an increasing number are emotionally and physically exhausted.

Engagement remains stable. Yet, the sense of engagement among those still employed has remained relatively constant across companies throughout the recession (measured by the average percent responding favorably to survey questions assessing: overall satisfaction, pride, willingness to stay if offered similar pay/benefits elsewhere, willingness to recommend the company, and willingness to perform above expectations).

Important attitudes have improved. Since the beginning of the recession, perceptions of Management Communications, Problem-Solving, Teamwork, Favoritism and Mutual Respect for Others have actually become more positive for many employees (as measured by the change in percent responding favorably).

Anxiety and frustration levels are on the rise. However, since the beginning of the recession, stress and anxiety, insecurity and other frustrations are present for many employees—including, somewhat alarmingly, a more negative view of leaders and managers today (as measured by a decrease in the percent responding favorably or increases in the percent responding unfavorably).

These results suggest that as the "Great Recession" comes to an end, organizations need to fully understand this odd new mix of emotions at play among the surviving employees.

"Employees may in fact be less secure, more critical of management's performance, perceive fewer opportunities and feel overworked (especially true in those companies that cut large amounts of employees). But the difficult environment also appears to have caused many in management to communicate better and be more open to solving problems", says Douglas Klein, President of Sirota Survey Intelligence. "Conditions may have caused employees to work more collaboratively and be more respectful of one another. A more communicative management may have created more transparency—hence, perhaps, the declines in Favoritism."

So, in the end, employees might be saying, "Despite this lousy economy (and the effects it has had on me directly and indirectly), I still have a job and this is still a good company to work for."

"However, the declines in specific employee attitudes are causes for concern. For many organizations, 2010 will represent a frugal future. Growth will come, but slowly, and a key element important to that growth will be an aggressive people agenda that values employees despite continued restrained spending," says Klein. "And while not all industries, regions, demographics and occupations are experiencing the net stress of this recession identically; our research suggests that there are specific steps all companies can be taking to mitigate the short- and long-term negative effects of this recession on both their workforce and their bottom-lines. "Management should focus their efforts initially in 5 specific areas."

Source: Sirota Survey Intelligence;

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