They've slogged through years of belt-tightening and downsizing, and endured endless requests to work harder, smarter or just plain longer.
Now, experts say signs of life in the job market could start pushing some employees to do what they've been dreaming about, perhaps for years: quit. Too bad their employers probably won't see it coming.
"Most companies are probably not fully prepared for all the … pent up turnover that is likely to come when the job market really turns around," said David G. Allen, a management professor at the University of Memphis who has studied employee turnover extensively.
Experts say employers appear to have grown pretty complacent about whether their employees will find a better job somewhere else. And even as many bosses have complained about how hard it is to find good workers, few have paid much attention to keeping the ones they have.
"People are saying that they can't find the right talent, and yet when they do, they don't take such good care of it," said Sandi Edwards, senior vice president of AMA Enterprise, an arm of the American Management Association that helps companies improve their workforce.
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For the most part, employers haven't had to work too hard recently to keep good workers. The unemployment rate hit a high of 10 percent in the fall of 2009, just as the nation was officially coming out of recession, and it has remained elevated even as the economy has slowly added jobs.