Many workers around the world have given up hopes of advancing in their jobs, but the bad economy is keeping them from finding new ones.
Such "walking wounded" workers are increasingly exchanging ambition for job stability, which now even trumps pay as a consideration, according to a biennial survey by the human resources consultancy Towers Watson Company
People are becoming "nesters", who prefer to stay in one career or with one employer for their entire career.
The report highlights a disconnect between what such "nesters" want and the growing trends that are shaping the global workforce: an increasing emphasis on flexible staff and short-term employment, more offshoring and part-time work.
"People are increasingly wanting things that are harder to get," said Max Caldwell, a leader of Towers Watson's talent and reward business.
"They'd like to settle into one or two companies for life. What people want is security, stability and a long-term employment relationship, [which are] increasingly out of reach."
Globally, a third of workers prefer to work for one organisation their whole life, according to the study, while another third want to work for just two or three employers. That preference for "nesting" reflects anxiety about jobs prospects and about factors like healthcare costs and retirement planning, expenses that are increasingly being shifted onto workers rather than carried by employers.
In the United States, almost twice as many workers expect continued deterioration in the jobs picture as those who expect improvement. A majority – 51 per cent – said there are no career advancement opportunities at their jobs, but nonetheless 81 per cent are not actively looking for a new position.
The study adds to recent data that indicates a high level of uncertainty about the shape and duration of the economic recovery.
Global staffing services firm Manpower said last week its quarterly measure of hiring intentions dipped slightly, suggesting US employees are less willing to hire in the second quarter than in the first.
Workers are more risk-averse because the recession has shown them how quickly jobs can disappear, and have become discouraged since a tentative recovery has not yet produced significant jobs gains.
"This notion of a jobless recovery is a very relevant trend, creating an environment with greater risk of disengagement. In some organisations, you have a walking wounded syndrome," Caldwell said.
Employers are still focused on managing compensation costs and they are cautious about staffing back up as demand increases, he said.
That may leave more room for companies to hold down compensation costs. The study hints wage growth for the next few years may be flat or at least less robust than in previous recoveries.