While news headlines highlight the toll the recession is taking on UK employment, recent TNS research has uncovered a surprising contradiction in employees' attitudes to work. Although on the surface people are showing concern about what the recession means for them, this is not yet translating into a change in behaviour in the workplace.
TNS's study into UK workers' priorities for 2009 reveals that almost a third (29%) of employees are more concerned about reducing their stress levels at work than avoiding redundancy, while 26% cite improving their work-life balance as their priority for 2009. Generally, Brits seem more focused on easing their work load and increasing their salary than avoiding job losses, which only 25% of the UK's working population mentions as a priority for this year. The study also shows that only 15% expect to take a cut in salary.
Supporting this finding is the fact only 9% of employees feel they need to make more of an effort to be noticed by senior management, indicating people are still expecting the same promotions and pay rises they got during the boom years, apparently ignoring the impact of the ailing economy.
But far from just wanting to improve the time they spend at work, more than a fifth (21%) of British workers also plan to proactively look for a better paid job this year - a surprising figure given the rising unemployment rate and threat of redundancies. The figures point to an unrealistic workforce that is expecting job offers and salary increases more appropriate to a growing economy than one in serious decline.
This is enforced by the fact that despite the undeniably gloomy job market, almost half (44%) of Brits have not changed their priorities at work since last year, with only 18% indicating that they have adjusted their work attitude in response to the recession. This figure is even higher among 55-64 year olds (63%).
Although we know 2009 will be a difficult year for businesses across the UK, employees' priorities do not seem to have shifted in line with the changing circumstance. We would have expected to see workers staying put in their jobs and working towards job security. Instead, they are looking for better paid jobs or promotions - not priorities one would expect to see during a recession.
There seems to be an attitude of ‘it won't happen to me' among the UK's workforce, and many are continuing as they always have been. But as more businesses are starting to cut back, it might be a good time for people to look at re-aligning their priorities. This will be a tough year, and although optimism should not be discouraged, we should adjust our expectations accordingly.
Gemma McIntosh is head of stakeholder management at TNS