Towers Watson recently released an executive summary of their 2010 Global Workforce Study, noting primarily the impact of the recession on employees. Key findings include:

“Our study reveals a recession-battered workforce — one with lower expectations, increased anxiety and new priorities. … The desire for security and stability trumps everything else right now, in part because employees see security as a fast-disappearing part of the deal. Confidence in leaders and managers is disturbingly low — particularly in terms of the interpersonal aspects of their respective roles.

“In short, ‘business as usual’ on the people front is not an option because there is no business as usual any more. (emphasis original) … Employers need to adopt new and creative practices to balance effective cost and risk management with enhanced employee retention and engagement. Employees will likely view careers, skill building and mobility very differently from how they did in the past.”

While I agree that confidence is low and that there is no such thing as business as usual any more, I believe the current low mobility of employees will change, and it will do so relatively soon. Employees have seen the lack of commitment the company has towards them. Just as this has escalated in the last 30 years, it will only continue to do so as employees use an improving economy to exercise their ability to find new, better, more exciting work.

Trust in management is lost. Some see this as a permanent break in the employee/employer workplace relationship. Dan Pink coined the term Free-Agent Nation more than a decade ago referring to this phenomenon.

While mobility is currently at a low point, this will change. The primary benefit of a free-agent nation to the employer is the constant stream of new, fresh ideas. But the costs are potentially much higher from the investment to find, hire and train them, the loss of accumulated knowledge in longer term employees, and the loss of people to serve as mentors to new employees on the company culture as well as the job function.

What do you think? Are employees so in need of job security they will stay put and hope for a return of “jobs for life?” Or do you think this is a temporary state of mind, soon to change as opportunity improves? What are you doing to prepare now for the outcome?