The 2023 Career Optimism Index® Shows How Employers Can Retain Talent in the “Free Agent” Job Market

The study was conducted by the University of Phoenix Career Institute®, part of the University’s Faculty of Doctoral Studies, which examines workforce dynamics to inform solutions that help break down barriers to career advancement.

PHOENIX, March 21, 2023 – The University of Phoenix Career Institute® today released the 2023 Career Optimism Index® study, a comprehensive look at the state of American workers’ career paths and their feelings about their work futures and job opportunities. This year’s Index study, the third consecutive year of the study, reveals that despite ongoing personal and professional challenges, most American workers remain optimistic about their career futures.

However, their hope is based on a sense of personal efficacy, not on the belief that today’s employers are doing what is needed to help their careers grow today and in the future. This has created a “free agent” labor market where workers are confident in the options available to them and are willing to pursue alternative career paths to achieve their career goals and work/life balance needs.

Designed to identify barriers to career advancement and inform solutions to address them, the Career Optimism Index® measures the attitudes, priorities and challenges of employees and employers. This suggests that by investing in a number of core career areas, employers can channel employee optimism about their skills into their current workplace, benefiting both companies and employees.

What employees say

  • Workers continue to face challenges: 65% of Americans say they are living paycheck to paycheck, up from 56% last year, while 47% reported they were working and half of those people reported getting worse in the past year.
  • However, optimism remains strong 80% of Americans are optimistic about their career future, but not about their current employer.
  • 53% of American workers are actively looking for a new job or expect to in the next 6 months, and 46% of American workers are willing to leave their current employer if they are offered 3 months of severance pay.
  • However, among those looking for work or expecting to look for work in the next six months, 68% said that if their company did more, they would be more likely to stay.

What can employers do?

  • Make tutoring mandatory: Compared to last year, the tutoring program has decreased. 43% of workers say their employers offer/will offer mentoring programs soon, up from 50% last year. A majority of Americans (56%) say they do not have a mentor, and 42% of Americans say they do not have an advocate in their professional life. One-third of Americans say a lack of mentorship/advocacy from a professional network has held them back in their careers (34%).
  • Invest in skill: 70% of Americans say that if their company gave them more opportunities to apply new skills, they would be more likely to stay throughout their careers. However, 40% of employees say that their company never provides specific opportunities for recycling.
  • Nurture wellness in the workplace: 74% of Americans say they feel stressed by their job/career. 39% of Americans say they have sought mental health resources to help manage stress at work.

“With an unstable economy, retention has become critical, especially for top talent, and employers are looking for solutions beyond office perks and happy hours. What we’re finding in our Career Optimism Index® study is that the American workforce is resilient, persistent, and serious about their careers they want opportunities for mentorship and promotion, to invest in new skills and to advance their careers internally. If they don’t get these opportunities from their current employer, they’re going to walk easily,” said John Woods, University of Phoenix Provost and Chief Academic Officer.

“Furthermore, there is a growing gap between how employers are doing with these basic career-building opportunities and how employees perceive their employers, which should serve as a wake-up call. Employers are facing the reality that transactional benefits are not enough to achieve employee retention; their There is a clear mandate to provide long-term support and deeper investment in employees,” Woods said.

Housed within the university’s Faculty of Doctoral Studies, the University of Phoenix Career Institute® conducts research to solve problems and collaborate with leading institutions. Job for the Future (JFF) to break down the barriers Americans face in their careers. The Institute is committed to developing an annual Career Optimism Index® study, sharing the results widely, to inform social solutions for career advancement and workplace equity, including one recently announced by JFF. Social Capital Framework provide employers and institutions of higher education with practical social capital strategies to promote Black economic advancement.

For more information on the University of Phoenix Career Institute® and the full Career Optimism Index® Study, visit

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