Nowhere to Go—for Now

New data shows three-quarters of workers are too discouraged to look for work now. But will they start to bolt in the coming months?

Throughout the pandemic, one common refrain heard among those lucky enough to have avoided being laid off or furloughed is that they are “just happy to be employed.” It’s a telling comment that, according to a new LinkedIn survey, suggests less of an endorsement of their jobs and more of an indictment that they are stuck with them.

The survey results show people essentially hunkered down in their current roles to ride out the pandemic. In fact, almost three-quarters of people are “sheltering in job,” as the report calls it, staying in a job for a steady paycheck, or waiting for better job market. Of the more than 5,500 people polled, 14% said they were too burned out to switch jobs.

The results are far from what corporate leaders want to hear, as an engaged workforce typically would be actively interested in their jobs. Instead, says Jacob Zabkowicz, vice president and general manager of Korn Ferry’s global RPO business, people are staying with their current jobs because it is their only option. Indeed, the survey found only 47% of workers said they “truly enjoyed” their current work, and less than one-quarter cited training and development or the possibility for a promotion as reasons for staying put.

Experts say the lack of engagement may lead to another concern that applies today: once the economy improves, the vaccine rollout gains momentum, and opportunities created by the shift to remote work expand, the pent-up demand among employees could create enormous turnover. “There is concern that people will bolt once the environment improves,” says Zabkowicz.

In the United States, economists predict between 5.3 million and 6.7 million jobs will be added this year, most of them in the second half of 2021 as the pandemic wanes. How ready businesses will be for any exodus is hard to tell. Zabkowicz says organizations are building annual operating plans that account for as little as 5% and as much as 20% more attrition than last year.

How desperate people are to leave their current jobs depends in part on how organizations have treated them throughout the crisis, says Mark Royal, a senior director for Korn Ferry Advisory who specializes in employee engagement. Royal says many organizations built up loyalty and goodwill through their response to the pandemic, with leaders becoming more visible, empathetic, and purpose-driven. Moreover, Korn Ferry data shows that organizations that preserved pay and increased benefit options to help manage COVID-19 challenges resulted in a 10% increase in employees feeling they were paid fairly and a 6% gain in satisfaction with benefits meeting their needs. In the LinkedIn survey, 30% of respondents said they were staying in their current jobs because they “enjoyed the company’s perks and benefits.”

Royal says leaders can mitigate the looming turnover risk by emphasizing the possibilities for employees to learn, develop, and progress in their careers if they stay. “Let them know there is somewhere for them to go,” he says.