More than 46% of all employed individuals in the civilian workforce today have felt “stuck” (meaning they have an unfulfilled desire to leave) in their current job for at least a year. We saw a significant spike in that percentage in the years 2007 through 2010, though the level has been relatively stable in the mid-40s% since 2010. As we dig deeper into the longitudinal data, we find that the percentage of those who have felt stuck in their job for longer than one year has continued to grow steadily throughout this time.

Nearly a quarter of employees in the workforce today have said consistently that they have felt “stuck” in their current job for more than three years.

Survey background

Since our workplace research began in 1993, we’ve been asking people about their attitudes toward their current employers, including multiple iterations of two key turnover/retention questions: “What would make you stay in your current job with your current employer?” and “What would make you leave?”

For this study we analyzed data trends from 41,238 respondents from January, 2009 through January, 2014. For 2,874 of those respondents, we were able to examine five years of “longitudinal” data, allowing us to look beyond typical measures of short-term job satisfaction.

That “stuck” feeling

Employees who feel “stuck” typically report dissatisfaction with the conditions of their current job, along with a lack of confidence in their alternative employment options:

? The job dissatisfaction is almost always attributable to the new “new normal”— Repeated downsizing and restructuring has led in many organizations to a leaner, more-high-pressure workplace, in which still-employed employees are doing more work with less support and fewer resources; and still-employed managers have too many employees to manage and diminished ability to recognize, compensate, and incentivize employee performance.

It is important to note here that given the pervasiveness of performance- based downsizing in recent years the vast majority of still-employed managers and employees were evaluated by senior management to be not among the lowest performing employees.

? The lack of confidence in alternative options is a complex mix of factors: At the core, of course, is the persistently weak labor market overall. However, pent-up departure demand is not a low-skill low-performing employee phenomenon and is not significantly lower among those with in-demand skills (for example health-care professionals) or among those with track records of high performance.

Those who feel “stuck” often say they lack confidence — not in their own “marketability” — but rather in the stability of potential alternative employers (as compared with their current employers). This insecurity and risk aversion is exacerbated in many cases by smaller nest eggs and decreased home equity.

Who wants to leave?

We found higher than average concentrations of pent up departure demand among employees who fit any two or more of the following three criteria which we are now calling “risk factors”:

• Employees hired in 2006 or 2009 or 2010 or 2011.

• Employees in organizations where significant downsizing and restructuring has occurred more than once since 2009.

• Managers and supervisors with more than 8 direct reports.

Why do they want to leave?

More than 90% of employees reporting an unfulfilled desire to leave for two years or longer listed at least one of the following factors as the “reason why” they wanted to leave their job:

• Not enough pay or benefits;

• Not enough support from (or don’t like) immediate manager;

• Too many hours or burdensome schedule;

• Unpleasant tasks or additional tasks without extra compensation;

• Uncomfortable workplace or seeking relocation.


Our analysis shows two primary negative consequences for employers resulting from growing pent-up departure demand:

? First, employers with significant pent-up departure demand are at risk of sudden spikes in turnover as the job market (and the economy overall) improves, especially among employees who meet two or more of the “risk factors.”

? Second, employees with pent-up departure demand self-report diminished performance at work at an astonishingly high rate. More than 90% self-report diminished performance in one or more of the following aspects of performance: Commitment; Effort; Morale;  Willingness to “go the extra mile;” Eagerness to “contribute my best ideas.”

It is important to note again that pent-up departure demand is equally distributed among high-performers and average performers. In fact, it is lowest among low-performers, who are most likely to say they’d like to stay in their current job even in the face of significant job dissatisfaction.


Our advice to employers regarding these findings is simple: Inform managers at all levels of this issue, its dynamics and implications. Evaluate pent-up departure demand in your organization. Have managers identify particular risk factors on their team and identify high-value employees who may be at risk.

Then, one person at a time, have managers either help those individuals fulfill their desires to leave, in short order... or better yet, one by one, actively reenlist those employees: Stop the downward spiral. Help them get back into an upward spiral. There is no short-cut to that solution. It requires strong highly-engaged leadership throughout the chain of command, from the top, all the way down to the front lines.