Despite recent economic reports that show jobless claims down for several consecutive weeks, employees reveal mixed feelings about what is in store at their employer, for the overall job market and their pay check in the year ahead. According to the Q4 Glassdoor.com Employment Confidence Survey of 2,118 U.S. adults aged 18+ conducted on its behalf by Harris Interactive, employees are more confident in their job security and company's outlook in the next six months than they were in the third quarter. However, this optimism is not universal as employees remain pessimistic about pay raises and have grown more uncertain about the job market since last quarter.  

This varied sentiment may be influenced by the types and frequency of employer-initiated actions and cuts that impact employees and their jobs. In the fourth quarter, 40 percent of employees reported their employers made changes to the number of staff, organizational structure, compensation and benefits, or other perks in the past six months, which is down from 55 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009 when the majority of these job actions involved layoffs or layoff plans. In the past year, the highest incidence of employer actions shifted to compensation changes or cuts. This quarter, more than half (52 percent) of employees who reported at least some change indicated their company made changes to or reduced compensation in the past six months, up from 50 percent a year ago. One in four (27 percent) said their own compensation (pay, bonus, etc.) was reduced during the same period. However, layoff reports dropped 11 points year-over-year with 46 percent of employees reporting their employers initiated or communicated layoffs in the past six months.

While reported cutbacks in other areas declined or remained at the same level from the third quarter, health and dental benefit cuts peaked at the highest level in two years following steady quarterly increases. This quarter, 28 percent of employees who cited at least some changes reported cuts to their health and dental benefit in the past six months, compared to 22 percent in the third quarter and 17 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. Meanwhile, employees reported fewer cuts in perks (i.e. commuter subsidies, free food, tuition reimbursement) (12 percent) and hiring freezes (24 percent) than in previously reported quarters. The rates for furloughs, unpaid leave and/or mandatory vacation (17 percent) as well as job restructurings/redundancies (11 percent) remained unchanged from the third quarter.  

"Employees are getting mixed signals from their employers and the market, so it's no surprise employee confidence in the fourth quarter reflects a mixed bag of optimism and caution," said Rusty Rueff, Glassdoor.com career and workplace expert, who has run global HR departments at Electronic Arts and PepsiCo before co-authoring Talent Force: A New Manifesto for the Human Side of Business. "Employment confidence is very personal. While there are some recent positive indicators in the labor market, these don't capture the wide range of employer cuts and other actions employees see and feel on a regular basis. Employee sentiment about their job, company and market will likely remain tempered until they see consistent and sustained periods of growth, fewer cutbacks at work and among their friends' companies, and more people getting hired into positions that were either eliminated or put on hold during the recession."

The Glassdoor Employment Confidence Survey highlights four key indicators of employee confidence in the areas of salary and bonus expectations, job security, job market/re-hire probability and company outlook. The fourth quarter highlights are below:

Compensation: 45% of Employees Do Not Expect Raise; Majority of Those Bonus Eligible Expect 2010 Bonus; Men Significantly Outnumber Women on Bonus Eligibility and More Likely to Expect Bonus Increases
Employees are less confident about getting a pay raise in the next 12 months than in the past two quarters. Nearly half (45 percent) of employees report they do not expect a pay raise in the next 12 months while approximately one-third (36 percent) believe they will and 19 percent are unsure. Those who think they will receive a pay raise is down one percentage point from the third quarter and five points from the fourth quarter 2009. Those in the West are even less optimistic where more than half (55 percent) do not expect a pay raise in the next 12 months, up from 48 percent in the region in the third quarter, compared to those in the Northeast (44 percent), Midwest (42 percent) and South (43 percent).

In the annual supplemental year-end bonus question, 75 percent of employees reported being bonus eligible, which breaks down to 79 percent of men and 71 percent of women. Of those bonus eligible, the majority (58 percent) expect a bonus while one-third (37 percent) do not. By comparison, in the fourth quarter of 2008 shortly after the market crashed, 57 percent said they expected a bonus while 40 percent did not. Of those who currently expect a bonus, 21 percent expect it to be more than their last bonus, 47 percent expect it to be the same and 16 percent expect it to be less while another 16 percent are unsure. Of those bonus-eligible, more men (62 percent) than women (53 percent) expect a bonus; and, of those who expect a bonus, twice as many men (16 percent) than women (7 percent) expect an increase in this year's bonus over their last.

Job Security: Layoff Concerns for Self, Co-workers Drop
After edging up in the third quarter, employee concerns about layoffs dropped in the fourth quarter. Employees concerned that they could be laid off in the next six months decreased to 17 percent, down three points from the third quarter and the year-ago quarter (20 percent). Layoff concerns are highest among those 35-44 (21 percent) and more so among men in that age group (25 percent) compared to women (16 percent).

Employee concern for coworker layoffs also dipped slightly in the fourth quarter, with 31 percent reporting concerns their coworkers could be laid off in the next six months, down from 33 percent in the prior quarter. This is a considerable decrease from the fourth quarters of 2009 (39 percent) and 2008 (42 percent).

Job Market: Optimism Rises among Unemployed Job Seekers; Employees More Uncertain in Ability to Get Rehired
For the first time in a year, slightly more unemployed job seekers think it is likely (31 percent) that they will land a job in the next six months than those who believe it is unlikely (27 percent) while one-third (34 percent) remain uncertain. However, despite recent positive job data, employed adults (including those self employed) reveal greater uncertainty in the job market in the fourth quarter than in the prior seven quarters. If they lost their job, one-third (33 percent) report they are uncertain whether they could find a job matched to their experience and compensation levels in the next six months, up from 28 percent last quarter. This sentiment is pretty evenly split among those who think it is likely (34 percent) and those who think it is unlikely (32 percent). Not surprisingly, optimism in the ability to land a new job in the next six months is highest among younger workers 18-34 (43 percent) compared to those 35-44 (36 percent), 44-54 (26 percent) and those 55+ (26 percent).

Company Outlook: Greater Optimism -- 4 Point Increase in Expectation for Company to be "Better"
In the fourth quarter, 42 percent of employees (including those self-employed) reported they expect their company outlook to get better in the next six months, up from 38 percent in the third quarter. Only nine percent expect their company's outlook to get worse in the next six months, down from 13 percent in the third quarter, and 10 percent in the year-ago quarter. Nearly half (48 percent) expect their company's outlook to stay about the same. Twice as many employees in the West (15 percent) expect their company's outlook to get worse in the next six months than those in the Northeast (7 percent) and South (7 percent).