Sunday, June 5, 2011

Employees gain skills but raises, job mobility scarce in new climate

The Great Recession spread its misery around. Yes, life changed dramatically for the jobless, but workers who managed to keep their jobs also saw changes in the workplace.

As recession survivors, the remaining worker bees reaped a few advantages: Many enjoy better job security and some may have added new skills to their resumes. But with nagging, high unemployment in Arizona, workers feel tremendous pressure to keep their jobs at all costs. That mentality has influenced everything from paychecks to performing good deeds around the office, career experts say. Some things that have changed for workers since the recession:

1. Layoffs are rare. Now that many employers are operating with skeleton crews, they can't afford to lose any more workers. The national data reflects that, said labor-market economist Heidi Shierholz, with Economic Policy Institute. "Right now layoffs are down - they are around pre-recession levels," she said. "If you have a job, we are no longer in this situation where people have reason to be extremely insecure about job loss."

2. Raises are scarce. Employers are reluctant to dole out raises or to offer generous pay because one job posting attracts a swarm of applicants. "Employers do not have to pay big wage premiums to get the workers that they need, nor do they have to pay substantially to keep the workers that they need," Shierholz said.

3. You can't quit. Many workers are itching to jump to a new job, some surveys show. Thirty six percent of employees hope to work for a different employer in the next 12 months, reports MetLife's 9th Annual Study of Employee Benefits Trends. Few workers have taken that leap, an expert observed. "Quits are way down from where they were when the recession started," Shierholz said.
In January, 345,000 people quit their jobs in the West, which includes Arizona. That produced a quit rate of 1.2 percent. In January 2008, the rate in the West was 1.8 percent, and 561,000 workers had quit their jobs in the region.

4. You commute less.
For years, regional leaders nudged major employers to improve air quality by allowing employees to use alternative work schedules and public transit. During the recession, more workers took advantage of these programs, said Holly Ward, spokeswoman for the Maricopa County Air Quality Department.
But there are other factors. Some of the increase may be linked to rising gas prices. Also, some cities, including Mesa and Peoria, have adopted compressed work weeks. Some work four 10-hour days with Fridays off.

Of the 579,579 workers who participated in Maricopa County's trip reduction survey, 2.8 percent of workers participated in shorter work weeks in 2007, but that number rose to 3.6 percent in 2009 and was 3.5 percent in 2010. Telecommuting increased from .7 percent in 2009 to 1.7 percent in 2010.

5. You have new skills. With fewer workers around to carry the load, some employees are doing the work of laid-off co-workers. That means that the remaining workers have opportunities to pick up additional skills.

"It's almost like a foxhole mentality," said Blake Ashforth, a professor at Arizona State University who studies organization behavior at large companies. "So if that means working especially hard or doing extra training programs, then people do it." Still, those aren't the best learning conditions, he said.
"If you feel coerced into doing it, you are less likely to really embrace the sprit of learning and act in a defense way," Ashforth said.

6. You avoid risk. After rounds of layoffs, workers often suffer from low-grade anxiety, Ashforth said. Since they aren't sure whether or not they will lose their jobs, workers "hunker down," do what the boss says and they avoid risk, he said.

"They basically do things to protect themselves in a way that doesn't call attention to themselves. So you tend to lose innovation. There's less bold decision-making. Things that really do matter to the long-term future of the organization," the professor said.

7.You're less selfless. Employees routinely go beyond the call of duty at work, but they are less motivated to do so when the office atmosphere is bleak, Ashforth said. Good deeds that matter to a company such as "helping a co-worker to do their job, even though that isn't in your job description, or picking up some trash in the hallway," are actions that workers may avoid, he said.

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