Today’s emerging workforce is generally dissatisfied with its jobs, Trish Miller, owner of Spherion staffing agency in Goleta, told the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce‘s Issue and Policy Roundtable last week. Fortunately, she said, there are steps that businesses can take to address the problem.

Miller’s sobering conclusions are based on data that has been collected by Spherion over the last decade, beginning in 1997. Spherion, a nationwide recruiting and staffing company with a local branch in Old Town Goleta, has been observing new workforce trends that differ greatly from traditional expectations and demands.

Miller explained that today’s workforce, driven by the “emergent worker,” also has less company loyalty and is more likely to be seeking change, not security, in the workplace. Job satisfaction appears to be hinging more on flexibility, maintaining the work/life balance, than on a strong management structure and lifelong career opportunities at one company.

In addition, these trends do appear to be slightly affected by changing economic conditions. The latest round of the ongoing study was completed in 2007 and indicates a small decline in “emergent workers.”  However, roughly half of the workforce is still identified as “migrating,” evolving from the traditional set of values to the new.

While this change is occurring in the workforce, Spherion’s study shows that HR executives on the whole remain faced with a shortage of qualified candidates and are focused on recruitment to fill continuous openings at their companies. This is especially true on the South Coast, where high-quality candidates have trouble finding affordable housing. Therefore, staff retention efforts are weaker, resulting in dissatisfied employees who continue to leave, perpetuating the cycle.

Understanding the new drivers of retention is critical. According to Miller, employees’ top priority is the benefits offered by the company, and only 34 percent of workers nationwide are currently satisfied with those benefits.

In addressing the challenge of retaining staff, Miller advises employers to ask themselves three questions: What do we need to do to retain our staff? Are we doing what we need to be doing to retain our staff? Do we want to do these things to retain our staff?

Tom Blabey is the public policy director for the Goleta Valley Chamber of Commerce.