September 8, 2009 in Business

Workers struggle with job insecurity

Many people are afraid to say no to longer hours, extra work or pay cuts
Randy Cordova Arizona Republic

As companies continue to lay off employees, enforce furloughs and cut pay, workers are becoming more nervous about their jobs. They are putting in more hours (often without pay), writing reports while on vacation and sometimes even checking e-mail and making calls while on furlough.

Our new economy is creating a new American worker – one willing to make sacrifices unheard of a few years ago and eager to take on new tasks created when colleagues were laid off.

“Layoffs have been pervasive,” said Ellen Galinsky, president and founder of the Families and Work Institute, a nonprofit research group that studies the changing workplace and how it affects families. “There are fewer people to do the same amount of work or even more work, so it means working more hours.”

Statistics show that employees are losing financial ground despite working harder.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in September that work force productivity in the second quarter increased 6.6 percent while the average number of paid hours employees worked fell 7.6 percent. Hourly compensation also fell a little more than 1 percent, suggesting that people are working harder but earning less money.

Last month, the national unemployment rate reached 9.7 percent, a 26-year high, and the economy shed 216,000 jobs. President Barack Obama said he believes unemployment will reach 10 percent before going down, meaning we still have some rough times ahead.

And in a climate in which people are worried about making ends meet, they may be putting in extra hours without balking.

“People are fearful,” said Deborah House, who handles sales and recruiting operations for Technisource in Arizona and Utah, a recruiting and staffing company. “They are afraid to say no, even when it is probably OK to say no. They see their friends and family and co-workers out of a job, and they don’t want to be in that position.”

But House does see the job world returning to what we once thought of as normal: “Most organizations cannot run as lean as they are today. This will not be the norm.”

When the economy was healthier, incentives such as bonuses and raises helped to keep employees motivated. But as businesses cut back on spending, they may not offer such financial encouragement.

“When employees do more (and additional compensation isn’t an option), companies run the risk of losing the relationship with the employee,” said Tom Gearty, who works as the southwest area manager for Administaff, a human-resources company. “Companies have to reward their employees.”

That is the philosophy at I Love Rewards, a company with offices in New York and Toronto that helps businesses create motivational programs to keep employees relatively happy during lean times. Razor Suleman, founder and CEO of the company, said he uses such programs at his business to keep workers satisfied.

“People are working harder, unquestionably,” Suleman said. “We try to empower the employee so they feel fulfilled and recognized. Your employees lose faith in you if you have different values depending on the economic weather.”

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