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World - Young workers disengaged by pressures of work

25 May 2011

Young workers around the world are lacking in engagement with their employers and are the most affected by perceived pressures at work, posing long-term retention and management problems for companies and countries, according to new research conducted among more than 30,000 employees in 29 countries by research firm GfK. The report finds a labour market polarised between disillusioned 18 to 29-year-olds and their older, possibly more resigned, counterparts.

Although younger employees are more likely to be free from the biggest responsibilities at work, a larger percentage of them are "frequently" or "nearly always" concerned about their work-life balance, pressure to work long hours, and personal health.

Looking at the opposite ends of the workforce age groups, just 21% of 18 to 29-year-olds are highly engaged with their employer, compared to 31% of those in their 60s. This 10-point gap between the younger 'doers' and those likely to be in the more senior positions poses real problems for businesses around the world, as it risks creating divided workplaces, inter-generational resentment and can hamper efforts to recruit, retain and motivate a flow of qualified young talent.

At a national level, some countries face a far more severe problem with the level of engagement in their young workforce. In Macedonia (36%), France (32%) and Turkey (32%), close to a third of their 18 to 29 year old workers are 'highly engaged' with their employers, indicating a fairly stable and productive situation for companies. However, at the bottom of the 'engaged' list, Hungary and the Czech Republic (6% each) and Serbia and Portugal (7% each) all face a very different proposition. Retaining young talent could become problematic in these countries, as economies become stronger.

Although 61% of young workers believe there are career opportunities for them, many believe these lie with another employer, or in another country. 58% of young workers are actively looking for a job, or will be in the next six months. Two fifths (41%) are willing to emigrate to find new employment. It is crucial, therefore, for business and countries to confront and resolve the causes of disengagement in their young workforce.

Work pressures take their toll

In many countries, work pressures are taking their toll on well-being amongst the younger work generation. The recession has dealt a hammer blow to the aspirations of many. More than a third of young employees have been forced to accept a job they were unhappy with (36%) or have been driven down a different career path (37%) because of the economy.

Younger employees also appear to be bearing the brunt of businesses tightening their belts. Two fifths (39%) believe that their employer is using the recession to justify asking them to do more, compared to one in four older workers (24%). A third (34%) are also concerned about not having the resources to do their work effectively, compared with 22% of workers in their 60s.

This, in turn, is having a real impact on younger workers' well-being. Two fifths (40%) are frequently stressed at work, which is a higher percentage than that seen in any other age. Moreover, almost a third (31%) feel under pressure to work long hours.

As a result, two fifths of young workers (39%) are unhappy with their work-life balance, again the highest percentage of all age groups, while a third (32%) feel that work pressure and stress frequently impacts their health, five points more than those in their 50s, and ten points higher than those in their 60s.

Explaining the figures, Sukhi Ghataore, Director at GfK NOP, UK, commented "during tough times, engaged employees and a united workforce are a necessity, not a luxury. Engaged workers want their employer to succeed, want to remain with them, and want to go the extra mile. But we should remember that attitudes towards work and the realities of employment have changed for each generation. There is no longer an expectation of, or provision for, a job for life. Many younger people are looking for what they perceive as a meaningful career, something they believe they are entitled to, and will be working in jobs for the short term while they look to fulfil their ambitions elsewhere."


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