Getting It Done. And Going.

Back during the Great Recession, the issue for many people was simply keeping their job. Or make that keeping a job. Thousands found themselves unemployed. Thousands more found themselves underemployed. It was a shock to the system.

But with time, there has been a recovery. And the jobless rate has improved.

Back during the Recession, management found itself in the difficult situation of having to determine which employees would stay and which would go. Who kept their desks. Who got cardboard boxes for their stuff. Certainly those who had kept their heads down and tried to make it so they weren’t noticed often found that they were readily identified and were shown the door with some alacrity. A serious problem, however, was that the exigency of the overall economic situation was such that too many companies had to eliminate the positions of too many good people. Getting rid of the fat was one thing. Getting rid of the muscle and bone was something else entirely.

And many of the people who stayed found themselves having to shoulder far more than they had to previously, far more than was probably practical. Yet that was the job. They did the work.

There has been recovery. The jobless rate has improved. So now, it seems, that a nontrivial number of those who stayed on, who got the job done, who have adapted and have helped their companies back to profitability, are rethinking their place at their places of work. And they are leaving.

Many of these people who are leaving are the ones that companies wouldn’t like to see go. At least these are people who are “very satisfied with their organizations and their jobs,” according to a recent study by Mercer (mercer.com). According to their “Inside Employees’ Minds” survey, 45% of those who are very satisfied with their organizations and 42% who feel that way about their jobs are looking to leave.

And here’s a disturbing aspect of this (assuming that those numbers on their own are not enough to have you reaching for a bottle of Tum’s): of those who are thinking about leaving, 63% are people holding senior management positions.

That’s right: the people who have made it to the upper ranks are thinking about making for the door far more than those who are in non-management positions. Only 32% of them are thinking about leaving. Not surprisingly, those who are in the older cohort are more likely to stick around. That is, 44% of those who are “seriously considering leaving” are from ages 18 to 34. Yet 39%—over a third—are from 35 to 49. And a good chunk of those from 50 to 65 are thinking about walking: 29%. This is just not about the Millennials.

Notably, across the board, the #1 thing that employees are looking for is base pay. While those who are 34 and under rank “career opportunities” as what they value in second place, it’s “retirement plan” for those from 35 to 65+ . . . and what I didn’t expect to find is that the retirement program comes in third for those 34 and under, so they’re looking at their future, too.

Yet there’s that number: 42% of “very satisfied workers” thinking about leaving their jobs. And that other number: 63% of senior management. 

According to Patrick Tomlinson, North American Business Leader for Talent at Mercer, “The inclination to leave is increasingly detached from employees’ satisfaction with jobs, pay, and even growth opportunities. Employers need to shift their talent strategies to understand the modern terms of engagement from the most-productive employees.”

Tomlinson went on to say, “The future of successful work relationships between employer and employee will depend on the trifecta of health, wealth and career—and how you make them all flexible to reflect the way people want to work today and what they are looking for in the employment relationship.”

So let’s think about what may be going on here (and yes, the survey is for a range of people working at an array of for-profit companies, not just auto). Someone makes it through the Great Recession with a position. Because there is a good likelihood that that person has skills, talent, capabilities, and commitment, she gets promoted to the ranks of senior management. Getting there wasn’t easy—and the conditions of so many people—at all levels—losing their jobs made it all the harder. But that became the New Normal. Adjustments and expectations changed.

The question becomes: why leave? Could it be because upper management has not taken into account what their people accomplished, what their people gave up to help keep the companies going? Tomlinson used the word “understand”—how many people in upper management try to understand that and how many simply think that everyone ought to be happy that they’re still employed?

The lesson here: You’d better talk before they walk.