FEARFUL OF all of the economic uncertainty of the last several years, many workers have been quietly biding their time.

I mean, you could daydream about trading jobs all you wanted to but for many of us, the question was: Where to go? It's been an employers' market - not the other way around.

When you talk with employment experts, the message you often get is that you should be happy to just be working. When I chatted with Philadelphia-based workplace legal expert Robin Bond yesterday, she suggested that disgruntled employees should try to "investigate ways to make the place better."

In other words, sit tight. "Just be present. Be aware," she said. The answer isn't always to leave a job you don't like, even if you are being overworked because your company laid off too many colleagues or you are filling in for people who left voluntarily but were never replaced.

At least you aren't on unemployment or completely tapped out financially.

But there's only so long that employers can get away with harboring a discontented work force.

With the economy showing glimmers of improvement, it's payback time - or that's what many workers are hoping.

A new survey by Manpower finds that a staggering 84 percent of workers hope to change jobs in 2011. That's up dramatically from just a year ago when a similar sampling found that 60 percent of workers were hoping to find new gigs.

"A lot of people are tired of not feeling in control of their lives. They may have worked for years and all of sudden they don't have a job," said Patrice Rice, founder of Patrice & Associates and author of "How To Interview."

"I think people are reevaluating their career choices so they can have some control over their lives.

"A lot of people are taking their 401ks and opening up their own businesses.

"I talked to one guy who had a human resources background," Rice continued. "He said to his friend, 'Who do you know in human resources who has retired of their own free will?' The days of feeling comfortable and that you are going to be with a company for 20 to 30 years and have your retirement benefits are gone. Unless you work for the federal government . . . it's ridiculous.

"People are trying to find ways to have control. Is someone younger or someone that will take less money coming into the company? And all of a sudden they won't have a job. People are tired of being afraid."

Many workers also are feeling, as the old saying goes, that they're damned if they do and damned if they don't.

"What people are actually experiencing is, 'If I hang tight, I'm going to lose my job.' There's a sense of, 'I need to be doing something different,' " said Steve Langerud, private workplace consultant (stevelangerud.com). "The grass is always greener."

I'm not sure where all these folks who Manpower surveyed plan to find jobs, considering the unemployment rate is still hovering around 10 percent.

And even if they do manage to get different jobs, conditions at the new gig might not better. So, besides updating your resume and sending it to prospective employers, what are you supposed to do?

A piece of advice that I hear over and over is to look while you still have a job. And when you start mailing out resumes, don't panic and send out hundreds.

"Of these 300 jobs, how many are realistic?" asked Paul Savedow, head of the Free Library of Philadelphia's workplace department, which runs workshops on finding work.

"Are they realistically within your community distance? How many of these 300 jobs are really appropriate? In that sense, I don't think a lot of people are as well versed in job seeking skills as they need to be . . . people tend to do the shotgun."

If you think your job-hunting skills need a tuneup, consider the library's Workplace Wednesday workshops.

The next session begins at 6 p.m. Jan. 5, at the main branch of the library.

You can't beat the price: Free.