A study released by the American Psychological Association indicates that American workers are feeling stressed, overworked, dead-ended, and underappreciated.

The study of 1546 adult workers was conducted  January thru February 2011; 36% of the respondents reported feeling highly stressed at work citing salary, heavy workloads, and lack of opportunities as contributing factors. Over 40% reported feeling unable to balance work-place demands with family life. Less than half reported receiving non-monetary recognition for their work efforts, and barely 50% felt “valued” by their employer.

Less than two-thirds feel motivated to do their best at work, and one in three indicated plans to change jobs in the next twelve months which clearly bucks the trend of the past three years when most were happy just to have a job.

The 2011 Employee Engagement Report reveals fewer than one in three employees world-wide are actively engaged in contributing to the success of their organization, and that as many as one in five are actually completely disengaged. Engaged employees tend to stay with an organization for what they can contribute while disengaged employees tend to stay only for what they get.

Economic conditions are beginning to look up. New jobless claims and unemployment levels are at their lowest point since 2009. Retained search firm ExecuNet reports that the number of qualified candidates with multiple job offers to consider is up 45% from 2010 levels, and the number of clients willing to negotiate job offers with qualified candidates is up nearly 60% from 2010. Combine these factors with the growing willingness of employees to seek greener pastures and 2011 could be a very challenging year for many firms.

In days gone by “old-school” managers I worked for might have said let the ungrateful so-and-so’s go, we’re better off without them. But just imagine the impact of losing just 10% of your work-force, much less a full third. Think of the recruiting, hiring, and training costs that would be incurred to replace them. Work-place disruptions, lost productivity, quality issues, and delivery problems would impact customer satisfaction level and stymie recovery efforts. You can’t afford to give everyone who might be tempted to look elsewhere a raise or a promotion. The good news is you don’t have to.

Properly run involvement efforts create opportunities for employees to influence how their work is performed, develop problem solving skills, and provides a sense their opinions matter. Effective recognition programs acknowledge contributions and contribute to a sense of value. Performance feedback and development plans can highlight internal opportunities to get ahead while letting the employee know someone in management truly cares about them as a person. All of these positively impact employee loyalty and in many cases contribute to improved operating performance and satisfaction.

After all, feeling challenged, knowing our opinions matter, that our contributions are noticed and appreciated, that we’ll have opportunities to learn and grow, and that we’re working for someone who truly cares about us as a person is enough to keep most of us positively engaged and hanging around an organization for a long, long time.

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