What’s your experience working in today’s tougher workplace?

bigstock-Overworked-employee-38800729In a two-part series on The Tougher Workplace, Los Angeles Times reporter Alana Semuels takes a look at how the recession has negatively impacted working conditions for both hourly and salaried employees.

One of the main themes of her story is that businesses are asking employees to work harder without providing the kinds of rewards—financial and psychological—that were once routine. As Semuels explains, “Employers figure that if some people quit, there are plenty of others looking for jobs.”

Paul Osterman, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, who was quoted in the story, agrees. He says, “Wages are stagnant, jobs are less secure, work is more intense — it’s a much tougher world.”

For example, Semuels quotes Matt Taibi of Providence, Rhode Island, who routinely works twelve-hour days as a driver for UPS. “There’s more and more push toward doing more with less workers,” says Taibi. “There are more stops, more packages, more pickups. What’s happening is that we’re stretched to our limits and beyond.”

All workers are being impacted

Semuels reports that salaried workers are also experiencing the harsher work environment. While an over-forty-hour work week has routinely been a part of salaried positions, workers often enjoyed a measure of autonomy in their schedules.

That’s increasingly rare, says David Tayar, who spent a decade on salary as an associate attorney at a Manhattan law firm. He says that the demands of his job grew so much in that time, he eventually felt that he could never take a break.

When he started, Tayar says, “I checked my voice mail every few hours. Today, lawyers must check their BlackBerrys every few minutes — and be prepared to cancel a dinner, a weekend trip, or a vacation at a moment’s notice.” Tayar says he took just one day of vacation in a five-year stretch.

“You could never totally relax — you could be called at any time, unless you were officially on vacation,” Tayar says. “And even if you were, there were times when you would be called in to work.”

In defense of the common tactic of reducing headcount, cutting costs, and driving higher levels of productivity, Tim Meyer, an executive with private equity firm Gores Group of Los Angeles, explains, “Sometimes you have to make dramatic changes to save the jobs that you can.”

But it’s come at a cost, says HR Specialist Donna Prewoznik . “The relationship between employers and employees has changed,” she says. “Employees haven’t had raises. They’re tired. Their hours are reduced. They feel a little bit betrayed.”

What’s your experience doing more with less in today’s work environment?  Share your comments below—or check out the hundreds that have been posted online in response to Semuels’ article.  You can read more by checking out The Tougher Workplace series here.

18 thoughts on “What’s your experience working in today’s tougher workplace?

  1. My experience: Database manager – went from 45 hour 5 day week to 60 hour 7 day work week, reduced pay and benefits. Employer expresses similar attitude as in article , if you can’t do it someone else will and for less money. I have more physical ailments (back pain, migraine headaches,) I am short tempered, occasional loss of focus. 5 hours sleep, no down time, lunch break non existent so less healthy eating habits. With so much documented evidence indicating a work force is far more productive and efficient when there is downtime, personal life, and lunch breaks how is it 21st century office/knowledge work resembles early 20th century factory work? Where are the business that truly follow the examples of business thought leaders?

  2. I recall a UPS “efficiency manager” following a driver around with a stop watch, timing how long it took him to deliver, drive to the next address, unload a package, continue his deliveries and finish his route. We had the same kinds of people on the railroad when I worked on the tracks. Timekeepers! We didn’t particularly like them or the kind of environment where time is more important than the service being provided, or so it seemed. One of the top three core values of the U.S. is time and our control of it. The other two, by the way, are financial opportunity and individual freedom. We all have choices. We quit the railroad because it was a summer job and we went back to college but I thought often of those stuck in jobs where they punch the clock and the clock punches them back, day after day after day. Doing more with less is perhaps a good idea but I have a different take on the meaning of that phrase. Interested?

  3. Employers thinking an employee can be easily replaced forget that it takes years and lots of money to get a new employee proficient. Additionally, there are the unknowns abot the new individual’s habits, etc.

    • Hi Joe–great point–I’ve seen stats that even with entry-level jobs, the costs of replacing an experienced employee costs a company 30% of that position’s annual wages. Replacing highly specialized workers can run up to 200% of annual salaries.

  4. What i want to share is : Employer push their Manager or Senior Manager to work with less support from experienced staff. For example, in manufacture company, I found that Manager doesnt have Supervisor to control production, He only have administration staff to support him.

    • Interesting perspective–in the same way that frontline workers often feel unsupported from their supervisor, you’re saying that managers often feel unsupported by their staffs. Hmmm!

  5. I think there are two kinds of companies out there. The first hires and fires based on the market and the employees are “headcount”. The second is dedicated to their mission and they hire only the best fits and they support their goals. It’s true in both large and small companies. The second group is a much smaller group (<20%) but they control a much larger part of the revenue. They tend to practice consultative selling and produce fewer but better products or be more involved in corporate strategy. Workers are watching and when people finally realize that austerity doesn't work, there will be a lot of workers who bolt. The companies with the worst employee relations will be left behind (they typically don't invest a lot in technology either and tend to live in the moment). I guess that's not helpful now but in the meantime, quit checking work email at home and if that's not an option, set boundaries like i don't check email after 7pm etc. Yes, somebody else will but you're not going to get a promotion in that environment and if you do it will just mean more work without a raise. If they threaten you, it's time to start looking.

    • Hi Ellen–great point about two kinds of companies–those that see employees as costs to be managed–and those that see employees as assets to be developed. I think employers have to ask themselves what type of company do they want to be and how many top people do they expect to recruit and retain with that attitude? Choices may be limited now, but good people will always go where they are appreciated and given opportunities to grow.

  6. What’s your experience working in today’s tougher workplace? great feedback from everyone and those feedback and trends will continue. I left the corporate world because of those types of feedback and open my own. it was tough in the beginning…but now i’m glad I did that move.

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