When an economy takes a tumble, it's hard to imagine quitting your job. But according the Bureau of Labor Statistics, resignations rose steadily in 2011.
In September of last year, nearly 2 million people gave notice—which is the highest number of resignations in a one-month period since November 2008.
"There are no points for loyalty anymore," said prosperity coach Randy Gage. "If you've been somewhere the longest, you have a target on your back. With so much downsizing, they're going to find someone younger, cheaper and willing to do more than you. So people are developing a sort of 'free agent' mentality, just like professional athletes."
Today's workforce is looking for quality of life at the office — such as break rooms, day care centers and work flexibility, Gage said. If the employer isn't fitting their needs, they'll often move on and seek other options, despite the risk.
"Playing it safe is the new risky, and being risky is the new safe," said Gage. "When I was growing up, my mother told me to go to school, get an education, get a job with a big company, and you'll get paid lots of money. But today, staying with one company is the riskiest thing to do. I think what's happening is a lot of people are saying, 'I don't trust corporate America is going to take care of me anymore.'"
And with the Labor Department's recent announcement of the jobless rate dropping to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent in December of 2011, things are looking up for job-seekers. Gage said he is seeing a whole new generation of people creating their own opportunities.
"I call them 'informational entrepreneurs,'" he said. "People are really finding a way to be lucrative with things like network marketing and starting their own companies, which used to be considered dangerous. But branching out on your own isn't any more risky than working for a company."
As for the employers hoping to keep their talent, Gage said this trend of being your own "free agent" means those in charge need to step up their game.
"This means rewarding those based on results and not entitlement," he said. "There has to be compensation if you don't want a backlash and see (your best people) move on."
Here are Gage's tips for staying ahead of the hiring curve and being in control of your professional destiny:
Get out of complaint mode. "Don't think a boss or government controls your economy," Gage said. "Make your own."
Welcome the chaos. "Times of upheaval offer great opportunities. Find people with problems you can solve and then you become indispensable."
See what you're worth. "Test the market. If you're not convinced your employer is paying you enough see what others are willing to pay by exploring free agency, and that will give you a better idea if you're being paid commensurate to the work you're putting in."
Always do more. "Consider starting a home-based business on the side, such as real estate, network marketing or direct selling, and information marketing. This way you can work for yourself and develop real equity."