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Leaving Trail of Recession-Weary Employees in Its Wake

The “Great Recession” may be ending, but its impact on the U.S. workforce and employment itself looks to be deep and long lasting, according to the results of new research from global professional services company Towers Watson. The biennial survey of employee attitudes and workplace trends confirms that the recession has fundamentally altered the way U.S. employees view their work and leaders today, while dramatically accelerating changes to the basic social contract that underpins employment here.

In stark contrast to earlier Global Workforce Studies, the 2010 results indicate that U.S. employees have dramatically lowered their career and retirement expectations for the foreseeable future. On-the-job advancement now takes a back seat to a growing desire for workplace security and stability—at the very point in time when traditional employment safety nets are eroding.

“For many employers, the recession has put the final nail in the coffin of the traditional ‘deal’ that once existed between employees and employers,” said Max Caldwell, a leader of the company’s Talent & Rewards business. “Not only have people seen many coworkers, friends, and family members laid off, but they know they are increasingly on their own for everything from health care to managing their career, to planning for a secure retirement. This represents a profound shift for employees and employers alike.”

The results also confirm just how far we’ve moved from the “free agent nation” concept hyped as a new approach to work just a decade ago. A startling eight out of ten respondents want to settle into a job, with roughly half saying they want to work for a single company their entire career and the rest wanting to work for no more than two to three companies. The move toward workplace “nesting” is no doubt influenced by a perceived dearth of job opportunities, doubled with U.S. employees’ lower appetite for the risks inherent in changing jobs. In fact, more than half (56%) of the U.S. workforce expects little change in the job market over the next year, and over a quarter (28%) anticipate continued deterioration in the employment picture.