Entry-level workers haven’t been this anxious about the job market in almost a decade

All things considered, most employees are slightly more confident these days. Just don’t look down, or compare it to how they felt last year … or ask entry-level workers how they feel. 

Entry-level workers are losing confidence at a rapid clip. In March, their rate of a positive outlook dropped to 46.1%, the lowest it’s been since 2016, owing to a depressed hiring market and minimal turnover. That data comes from the latest Employee Confidence Index installment from anonymous job-review site Glassdoor, published on Tuesday. 

A slow hiring market hurts entry-level workers the most, leaving them fewer opportunities to break into new industries, much less climb the corporate ladder when no one above them quits for a new gig. 

Of course, one major reason for the glass-half-empty outlook is the spate of layoffs hitting nearly every industry indiscriminately. Many bosses have blamed the unfortunate job cuts on over-hiring following strong pandemic-era performance, which, naturally, hasn’t gone over well with their workers or boosted morale. The share of Glassdoor reviews that mention overhiring jumped 24% from last year, and more than tripled from March 2022, before the layoff flood really began.

It’s really no wonder entry-level workers are stressed. Career consulting firm Challenger, Grey & Christmas recently reported that this year kicked off with 82,307 job cuts—a 136% increase month-to-month increase. (Save for January 2023, the January 2024 figure represents the highest number of cuts since January 2009.) Add that to the fact that there are fewer jobs to apply to if you happen to get laid off; by late 2023, total listings were down 15% year-over-year, Indeed found.

Ever since late 2022, when layoffs “really began to grab headlines,” employee confidence has been dropping sharply, and it’s stayed subdued despite economic data showing that layoffs are actually low by historical standards, Glassdoor’s lead economist, Daniel Zhao, told Fortune on Tuesday. “The share of Glassdoor reviews mentioning layoffs continues to rise even as layoff waves come and go, signaling that this economic anxiety about layoffs is sticky.” 

The company has even seen that effect in reviews written by workers who were unaffected by layoffs, but still reported stress and burnout from layoffs in their industry. As Zhao wrote in the report, “economic anxiety about job security does not necessarily match actual layoffs one-to-one and the impacts on morale and employee sentiment may last longer than employers realize.”

But despite the monthslong lows, a revitalized job market could stand to boost employee confidence. As Zhao pointed out, rates of hires and quits are both low, because both bosses and workers are sitting tight. He compared that job market freeze to the current housing market. “where interest rate lock-in has reduced the number of buyers and sellers.” 

“If the economy thaws and hiring opens up, that can get workers back to moving up the career ladder,” Zhao added.

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