Economic recovery gives frustrated workers job options

The boss' perception: Given the rough economy, workers are thrilled just to have a steady paycheck. The employee's reality: Many are frustrated, secretly seeking new opportunities — and soon could be scooped up by another company as the economy recovers.

More than 8 in 10 employers feel that their workers are "just happy to have a job," while just 53% of employees feel this way, according to a new survey from online job-listing company and the research group Human Capital Institute. And 17% of workers are thinking of changing jobs in the next 12 months, according to a survey that employment website released Thursday. Since the recession started in December 2007, about 6.7 million people have lost a job. Those who picked up duties from laid-off colleagues may find it easy to jump ship, executive coach Jennifer Kahnweiler says.

"A lot of (employees) have expanded their skills by doing more work," she says.

More than 50% of workers took on new projects and gained more responsibility during the recession, according to an April survey by staffing-service company Accountemps.

That enhanced expertise makes those workers more marketable.

"It's not going to be difficult for some companies to poach workers," says Beth Carvin, CEO of retention-management consulting firm Nobscot.

Those who survived the downsizing may have gained new skills, but many also endured "shoddy treatment ... including a lack of communication about layoffs," says Lisa Rowan, a human resources and technology analyst at technology research firm IDC. In addition, they had to deal with financial hits such as slashed benefits and pay.

The result: Many have learned that employers frequently favor the bottom line over a staffer's best interest. Fueled by that knowledge, workers are keeping résumés up to date, attending networking events and watching for the next-best job offer.

"There is going to be fallout as far as the way people manage their careers, particularly when you've been laid off. It changes you in very significant ways," Kahnweiler says. "I think after something like that, you will always look over your shoulder."

As for employers, human resource experts say they should have strong retention strategies, such as helping workers develop new skills and allowing flexible work schedules.

If that doesn't work, there's always another technique: increased pay.

Nearly half of workers said a bump in salary is the best way to keep them aboard after the economy improves, according to a study out last week from staffing firm Robert Half International and employment company (CareerBuilder is jointly owned by Tribune, McClatchy, Microsoft and USA TODAY parent Gannett.)

In fact, 28% plan to ask for a raise.