Networking

Poor economy causes 'silent fright' among those still employed

In poor economic times, when the alternative is no job at all, many employed workers stop taking advantage of work benefits that were formally used as incentives, such as flex time, paid sick leave, and telecommuting policies. But what effect will this have in the long term?

In poor economic times, when the alternative is no job at all, many employed workers stop taking advantage of work benefits that were formally used as incentives, such as flex time, paid sick leave, and telecommuting policies. But what effect will this have in the long term?

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Back when things were fairly normal in the work world (before unemployment rates hovered around the two-digit mark), employees were often incented by benefits such as flex time, paid sick leave, and telecommuting opportunities.

But a piece in The Washington Post this week says that, even though those benefits still exist, employees are pulling back from using them because they want to appear more indispensible to employers. They call this syndrome "silent fright": Work as many hours as you can. Don't ever complain. Don't ask for anything.

According to The Washington Post article, HR consultants say that employers are doing little to dissuade this attitude, reasoning that negative incentives like fear of unemployment work as well as the positive ones.

It would be interesting to be able to measure in terms of dollars what effect the resulting employee burnout has on the bottom line. It stands to reason that employees with a constantly fearful outlook would be less likely to think creatively or take chances that would benefit the company. Also, long and uninterrrupted work hours could result in more mistakes made by employees.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

25 comments
toxic psychotic avenger
toxic psychotic avenger

As an employer, I realize that if my employees are in fear all the time, they will not be focusing 100% on what I need them to. I try to keep everyone up to speed on where we are with workload etc. I certainly try my best not to convey that they are lucky to have a job. Although I must admit, if someone is whining about an assignment I am tempted to casually bring up the unemployment figures. Most of my charges are 20-somethings and this recession is their first rodeo. It's a hell of a balancing act.

Spudbert
Spudbert

This goes beyond just working extra hours. Some companies, to trim health care expenses, are demanding marriage and birth certificates if you want to cover your dependents on your health insurance benefits. If you don't like, take a walk.

Jalapeno Bob
Jalapeno Bob

Toni, In today's world of over-committed families and suburban living with long commutes, benefits such as flex time and telecommuting do much to minimize stress on the employee and the family. Personally, I telecommute two days a week and I get twice as much done on those two days as I do on the other three. Also, I do not arrive at the office frazzled by the other drivers - i just sit down and open my laptop. The difference in my stress levels, and those of my family, is amazing. I suspect this "silent fright" will not only have the direct effect of lowering productivity of the employees, but also the indirect effects of more rush-hour road rage, more stress on employees due to resultant family problems and, in the long term, higher turnover when the economy recovers. For employers, this is disastrous - in the layoffs now, they protect the most valuable employees only to lose them when they need them to mentor the next crop of expansion hires. The current economic times are stressful on employees and their families, employers should help to alleviate the stress on their most valuable employees.

TX_Techie
TX_Techie

At the company I work for, everyone has put off taking time off and using sick leave too. One thing I am happy they are doing is picking up where they left off about a year ago with drug testing. I feel that if they have to let some people go, do it to the ones that don't value thier jobs enough to not get wasted every weekend.

tags
tags

The first time I got laid off, my boss started telling people they could not work from home anymore. People who had made arrangements with spouses to switch off with picking up kids, had to drop those arrangements. I stopped my Fridays from home before he made it mandatory. Then, he started being threatening - "Just because you're nice doesn't mean you won't get laid off" was one of his statements to me. Constant fearful statements were thrown out.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

That's rule by fear...and the second the economy picks up people will leave in droves just to get away from him.

Unemployed Telecom Guy / Full Time Student Guy
Unemployed Telecom Guy / Full Time Student Guy

I was told by my supervisor that I would not be the first one to go in the event of a layoff in the companies IT dept. A month later I was the "First One To Go". Luckily for me I was going to school part time and the layoff opened up my calender for me to go full time. I am now fast tracking my education and when I graduate I am hoping the economy will be on the upswing. Three months later I was hearing rumors that people were getting their vacations taken away from them amongst other things. Where will it stop?

dhappy
dhappy

This statement couldn?t be any truer, ?silent fright? is a good description for how my co-workers and I have been feeling for the last five years. Companies are aware and taking full advantage of our predicament as they scale back or eliminate programs like tuition reimbursement, training, 401k matching, etc. They persuade us to telecommute to save the company money (I have no issues here), but they stopped paying for home-office phone and internet charges which are needed to work ($$$). To make matters worse in the last year they have eliminated GAP pay for being available 24x7, (but still expect us to respond to pages at 3:00am), they have involuntarily decreased our pay by 5% permanently and another 10% for the month of April. This is just the tip of the ice-burg. Just when I think they can?t screw me anymore, GUESS WHAT?...

reisen55
reisen55

November 5, 2005 - a conference call at Aon Group from Computer Sciences Corporation - "You've all done your jobs well and met all of your service level agreements. You can be proud of the work you have done. In 30 days your jobs will be eliminated. Thank you." And they were. For cheaper,faster,better folks in Bangalore and stupid kids to come and take the jobs of working professionals who were simply cursed by being American based workers who knew what they were doing and compensated accordingly. Service levels, good performance, doing your best mean absolutely NOTHING ANY MORE. NOBODY CAN FEEL SECURE IN ANY JOB ANYMORE. Get your money set, and be prepared to be canned at a moment's notice. And employers no longer worry about age discrimination either.

alfred.fuentes
alfred.fuentes

India employs about 950,000 people in the outsourcing industry and adds 450,000 new jobs each year. But filling those vacancies is proving to be a nightmare. The numbers for other countries are staggering, when will we Americans ever learn. Australia, Spain, and others countries have either suffered from outsourcing or migrant workforce in one form or another.

Photogenic Memory
Photogenic Memory

Will employers( like mine ) improve pay-scale to retain employees in case of a brain drain or will they get caught out there? Interesting food for thought.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

When the economy improves, they'll close their eyes to it and assume you can only get a job at Burger King. Once the brain drain starts to happen, they'll wonder why and just assume they can replace tons of domain knowledge with noobs. Par for the course. I'm not cynical, why do you ask?

gary
gary

There are only two good jobs: the last one and the next one.

Maevinn
Maevinn

I have just one job that I liked more than where I am now, and even it was flawed (limited room for growth, no possibility of advancing without changing shops). I'd rather prove my worth to the company by finding ways to save money and jobs, not by giving up a benefit that's already paid for.

Derek Freeman
Derek Freeman

My project manager had this affliction... he thought we should all be lucky just to have jobs and we should "shut-up and color" instead of complain about or ask for anything... needless to say, I've just started a new job and I know others are potentially jumping ship as well. I do feel that there is some risk to changing jobs in the current climate of uncertainty, but if you have the right credentials, companies are still hiring in my region.

ITCompGuy
ITCompGuy

I am sure that I am not alone in this one, but I was outsourced/released from an IT position back a few years ago when the economy was supposedly "good". It took me close to half a year to find suitable employment. I would imagine that it would/could be quite longer with the increased competion from all of the others out of work during this time when the economy is classified as "bad". I think that most workers will probably feel a bit of apprehesion at the prospect of looking for a job during this time. Many may be adjusting their work behaviors to be "safe" in their current positions. I personally feel that you should always be your "personal best". You cannot control the things that are not in your control. Many good employees have lost jobs due to no fault of their own. Many subpar employees have employment by the same rule. You have to be true to yourself. If I have a benefit like sick/vacation/flex/gym/etc, I am going to use it as I normally would. If you are a good worker and always try to do the best job (no matter what the economy) then things will fall into place. Just my opinion.

markoalleno
markoalleno

What's the risk? I hear everyone say that, but as long as your current employer doesn't know you're looking then I don't see how it's risky. I suppose new employees are at a higher risk to be let go first in the case of lay-offs. If anything, looking for a job during an economic down turn is a positive thing. It keeps you fresh and in the job hunting mindset should you lose your job.

jpesadilla
jpesadilla

After spending the better part of 2.5 years unemployed, I consider my present position to be just a paycheque at the moment. This is not me continuing my career, I am doing a job, nothing more. I am doing my level best to do my JOB and keep my head down. My employer has a few incentives available such as a full gym onsite. I have not taken advantage if this, and don't think I will anytime soon.

Bebedo
Bebedo

While I agree with the others replying to your comment that your productivity may go up after a good workout, I'd like ot focus instead what you imply you are neglecting -- yourself! You are in an unchallenging career path -- a job that provides little intrinsic reward for you. Give yourself the benefit of using the gym in order to: 1) Get in shape 2) Provide mental stimulation (take a magazine while on the stairclimber!) 3) Give yourself a break from your boringjob routine! 4) Studies show that exercise releases endorphins -- those happy brain chemicals -- making you a happier person overall 5) Studies show exercise increases your energy levels -- maybe enough to motivate you to find the next big thing! 6) While at the gym, perhaps a colleague or a friend is made who can clue you in to a new opportunity or position either in your company or somewhere else. Network! So invest in yourself by going to the gym. It may have a benefit to your company, but you are investing in yourself, a most important asset!!

KSoniat
KSoniat

Part of the reasoning of perks such as a gym are studies that show health care costs go down and employee satisfaction go up. I find it hard to believe your employer would think less of you for using what is provided for you. Use it after work if you are worried about your hours. You will probably feel better in general if you work out. Previously I worked out almost every lunch as I was almost next door to a gym I subscribed to. I came back all reved up and very productive while some of my co-workers who went out for a big lunch were ready for naps.

ctech1
ctech1

I agree! Using the gym shows your desire to improve things in your life, lower the company's health costs and be part of the work place. It will definitely improve your attitude and relieve stress. Go for it!

KSoniat
KSoniat

My parents lived in Issaquah for 20 years, and they rented a house in Kirkland while it was being built. This was during my college days so I spent one Christmas break in Kirkland and a few summers (and other visits later) to Issaquah. Can you see Rainier today? ;)

apossek
apossek

I have a large and demanding family at home, so working out during the lunch time is my option. It does increase the productivity in the afternoon.