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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Global survey hints at uptick in worker unhappiness

A tough global economy has made workers thankful just to have jobs, right?

Not exactly.

A new global survey indicates employee dissatisfaction is on the rise -- and that could lead to a musical-chairs dash of worker turnover once the economic outlook eventually brightens.

"What's surprising is that the percentage of workers who say they're seriously considering leaving has jumped dramatically, even in the face of a 9percent unemployment rate," said Pete Foley, North American employee-research leader at Mercer, a human-relations consulting and outsourcing firm that conducted the survey of 30,000 workers in 17 nations. "People are feeling a lot of angst right now."

Some 32 percent of U.S. workers said they're considering leaving their jobs, up from 23 percent who said the same in 2005, prior to the recession.

Nor is dissatisfaction limited to the U.S. In fact, it's been increasing faster in Brazil, India and other emerging nations, which might reflect rising expectations and better job opportunities in those places.

"Loyalty is eroding pretty much everywhere," Foley said.

He considers this a function of companies asking workers to do more while scaling back promotions, pay raises and benefits. "Employees have seen a lot of takeaways," he said.

Even among fence-sitters who aren't sure they're ready to quit, dissatisfaction is widespread and can lead to apathy. "They're not necessarily planning to leave, but they're less satisfied and committed," he said.

Because corporate executives often believe they can't pay more or promote, benefits can play a bigger role in motivating workers, Foley said. In the U.S., the most valued benefits are still focused around health care and retirement, he said, but employers also should think of other ways to make jobs more attractive, especially for younger workers who might have different preferences.

They tend to favor things like flexible schedules more than their older colleagues. "Maybe it means Ping-Pong tables in the breakroom or more attractive workplaces," Foley said. "But it also could mean doing a better job communicating the value of more traditional benefits to them."

Bank switch takes work

Plenty of people are upset with big banks and some might be tempted to switch to small community banks or credit unions. But it's smart to look before you leap, because breaking up can be hard to do.

Smaller banks and credit unions typically have most of the same financial products or services that most consumers need. Often these institutions, especially credit unions, offer slightly higher interest rates on deposit accounts and lower rates on loans.

Perhaps you might find them to be more personable, too -- and less likely to unveil objectionable fees. Much of the current big-bank backlash stems from Bank of America's plan to charge debit-card customers $5 a month --a proposal that has since been scrapped.

At any rate, you will need to put some effort into switching. Once you find a new bank or credit union, it's smart to open your checking account with a small amount of money, until you're comfortable everything is working properly. You'll also need to order new checks, debit or credit cards and other items.

You'll need to take an inventory of your auto-deposit and auto-withdrawal connections and switch them over. It's also wise to get copies of past or current statements from your existing bank before closing the account. Also, make sure you won't trigger fees for leaving, which might apply to Individual Retirement Accounts, for example.

Once everything is in order and your last checks have cleared, close the account. Green America, a non-profit group focused on building a "socially just and environmentally sustainable society," offers a guide on how to "break up with your mega bank." It's available at greenamerica.org/go/toolkit, though you must register for it.

Bond stability

A sluggish economy is frustrating for job seekers, retailers and others. But bond investors are finding it somewhat comforting.

Todd Curtis, portfolio manager of the Tax-Free Trust of Arizona, isn't too worried about rising interest rates or municipal defaults hurting the prices of bonds owned by his mutual fund anytime soon.

"I think we're in a flat market," he said during a recent shareholder meeting in Phoenix attended by roughly 100 fund shareholders and others. "We've really stayed right where we were."

Most Arizona municipalities sport healthy credit ratings despite the tough economy, and interest-rate increases are still at least a year or two away, Curtis indicated. Both factors bode well for the fund, which counts $290million in assets and pays dividends exempt from both state and federal taxes for Arizona residents.

Valley economist John Lucking, also speaking at the shareholder meeting, said he expected an economic climate next year similar to the current situation. If there are negative surprises, Lucking predicted they would emanate from the European debt situation. He believes the housing market could be a source of positive surprises.

by Russ Wiles The Arizona Republic Nov. 5, 2011 12:10 PM



Global survey hints at uptick in worker unhappiness

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