THE global financial crisis has had a severe and divisive impact on the sentiment of the workforce, according to extensive research recently released by Hudson, a leading provider of specialist recruitment, talent management and managed services.

The research findings, part of the Hudson 20:20 Series report, Talent Tightrope: Managing The Workplace Through The Downturn, reveal that employers consistently think their employees’ sentiment is twice as good as it is in reality.

In every aspect of current workplace sentiment, whether it is job satisfaction, motivation, morale, perceived stress levels or job security, employers are clearly unaware of their employees’ frame of mind.

For example, 44 per cent of the 2,394 employees surveyed indicated that worker morale has plummeted. In contrast, only 26 per cent of the 247 employers interviewed acknowledge that workplace morale has dropped.

The initial response of companies to the global crisis has understandably focused on rapid crisis management, including slashing workforce-related costs through restructures and redundancies. The results show that over half of the companies surveyed (51 per cent) say revenue has declined, 41 per cent have downgraded their profits outlooks, 37 per cent have undergone or faced a restructure and 35 per cent have made roles redundant.

While most employees are not blind to commercial realities and the need of their employers to cut costs and implement rapid change, discontent is brewing.

Over a third of all employees (35 per cent) report increasing concern about the impact of the downturn on their personal circumstances. The report looks in detail at the three generations in the workforce (X, Y and Baby Boomers) and found that Baby Boomers have been the most severely distressed with almost half (42 per cent) registering heightened concern about their future.

Insecurity abounds, with almost a third (32 per cent) of employees genuinely concerned about losing their jobs. This is a very different scenario from only a year ago. Forty-two per cent said they felt their job is less secure than the same time last year. Even though they now fear more for their jobs, it doesn’t necessarily mean they want to stay with their current employer.

This simmering resentment is highlighted by a third of employees (32 per cent) who agreed with the statement “management thinks it doesn’t have to reward and recognise our work anymore because we should feel lucky to have a job right now”.

Employees’ feelings of disaffection are already playing out in the market, with more employees seeking new roles now compared to before the downturn. Almost half (47 percent) are seeking a new role and 56 per cent say they would consider roles they previously would not have looked at.

If employees are disgruntled or unhappy with their current roles, they will leave when a better opportunity presents itself. Employers must be aware of the danger of such a mass exodus and take urgent steps to avoid it.

Contrary to popular belief, it is the youngest generation that is displaying the greatest loyalty to employers. One in four Generation Ys, often cited as chronic job hoppers, say they are now more loyal to their company.

Another crucial finding of the report is that employees, in particular Generation Y, are now focused on long-term security and career development over instant, salary-related reward.

In the 2008 Hudson 20:20 Series report, Candidate Buying Behaviour, the main triggers for leaving one’s job were salary-related, with 63 per cent citing this as their top reason. In 2009, this percentage dropped to 45 per cent, and career development considerations increased to 58 per cent.

Employees’ priorities and expectations have changed. It is crucial that organisations understand the impact this has on recruitment practices. Recruitment is ever more a consultative province and the quality of an organisation’s employee value proposition is crucial to attract and retain the best people.

People are the heart of a business. A motivated and engaged workforce is key, and it is vital that a talent management strategy focuses on the specific drivers needed to create and maintain this motivation and engagement in every individual employee.