In 2010, resignations outnumber layoffs

Rejoice! More people quit their jobs in December than were laid off or fired.

That's nearly two million people who voluntarily left offices, laboratories, and factories that may or may not have been deemed "the best place to work."

Nevertheless, we should be cheered by that turn of events because a rising "quits rate," as the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics calls it, means more people are willing or able to change jobs. The peak level of quits was 3.2 million in November 2006 - a year before the recession began.

As twisted as it may be to cheer on those quitting, I'd argue that such proactive job mobility can only be considered a good sign for employers who finally may be turning their mind-set from years of cost-cutting to new investment.

Will those individuals changing jobs find their new employers to be a better fit than their previous ones? Hard to say, but there is apparently an army of researchers and survey professionals poised to find out.

It seems that as the various rankings of the "best places to work" proliferate, so, too, does anxiety over employee or job satisfaction.

There is no firm definition for job satisfaction. For some people, simply having the candy machine filled weekly is enough. Others want to be treated with respect by their boss, challenged by their work, and recognized for their achievements.

Plenty of academic research links high job satisfaction with improved company performance, strong talent retention, and vibrant organization culture.

However, at a time when the unemployment rate has been above 9 percent, it may seem a little flaky for employers to be concerned with improving employee satisfaction. After all, the management-consulting firm McKinsey & Co. in the late '90s declared a "war for talent," trying to focus American companies' attention on the global competition for attracting and retaining the smartest, most innovative, and hardest-working employees.

I would've thought the recent recession that crunched many parts of the globe had squelched such intellectual skirmishes. However, there was Manpower Inc. at the World Economic Forum in January, resurrecting the "war-for-talent" metaphor, warning that access to talent would supplant access to capital "as the key economic differentiator." The large employment agency even reached into history (or histrionics) by calling this the dawning of the "Human Age," succeeding the Information Age and the Space Age.

Good thing we have the Society of Human Resources Management already in place to help us adapt. The professional association for HR practitioners does an annual survey on job satisfaction.

Overall, 40 percent of workers described themselves as "very satisfied" with their current job, and 44 percent were "somewhat satisfied," according to survey results released in the summer.

Why so content? The survey of 606 employees turned up a number of reasons, but job security was No. 1 for the third year in a row. That's understandable after the career carnage we've experienced since the recession.

The next most popular reasons were company benefits, opportunities to use skills and abilities, the work itself, their organization's financial stability, and compensation/pay. That's right, cold, hard cash was in fifth place.

However, check a different survey, and you get a different answer. The Conference Board has been studying job satisfaction since the mid-1980s and has documented a steady downward trend. In its most recent survey in 2009, it found only 45 percent of Americans said they were satisfied with their jobs, down from more than 61 percent in 1987.

Researchers at the New York-based forecasting group noted growing dissatisfaction among all employee age groups and noted that posed a risk to productivity, which has been the key to economic growth.

There's that war for talent, I guess.

But might we also not be seeing employee uprisings against old ways of doing business? Workers may be leaving for start-ups that offer environments that are more challenging and potentially rewarding. Mobility that had been hampered by the bad times may once again start to shift talented workers to where they feel valued.

Such free-flowing human capital is what enables the creative destruction that keeps U.S. companies the best they can be. And it's far preferable to the financial destruction that wasn't satisfying for anyone.


Contact columnist Mike Armstrong at 215-854-2980 or marmstrong@phillynews. com. Read his blog at