No-brainer: Work more or lose job

al lewis
No-brainer: Work more or lose job
Tue Sep 2 09:41:11 2003,1413,36~130~1560526,00.html
al lewis
No-brainer: Work more or lose job
By Al Lewis, Denver Post Business Editor

A scared employee is a productive employee.

There's no longer time for idle banter, irrelevant websites or stupid tricks with the copy machine.

With the threat of layoffs always looming, lunch and dinner are at the desk, and the 40-hour workweek is a fast fading memory with no overtime.

Project? No problem. You work Saturdays, right?

"If you're uncomfortable about your job position, you are more than willing to put in the extra effort," said Michael Swanson, senior economist for Wells Fargo. "I would have to believe that in this environment, people have worked additional hours and probably taken fewer vacation days."

That's at least part of the reason why recent U.S. productivity gains are now eclipsing even those of the 1990s.

Last year, U.S. worker productivity posted its biggest gain since 1950. The measure of how much an employee generates per hour worked rose 4.7 percent. And that was nearly twice as fast as the average gain of 2.5 percent from 1996 through 2000, when layoffs weren't a factor and many employees' biggest fear was not getting enough stock options.

Then last week, a Labor Department report showed productivity was improving at a whopping 5.7 percent annualized rate from April through June - yet another sign that people who survived the recession with their jobs intact are working harder than ever.

Fear is a great motivator, and workers have much to fear. Lofty credit card debts and highly leveraged homes turn people into virtual slaves for their bosses, and their bosses are in turn slaving for even bigger slave-driving bosses with even higher debt loads.

It's a multitiered form of indentured servitude when so many of us are just a layoff away from personal bankruptcy. That, of course, is reflected in courts in Colorado and across the nation - all flush with record bankruptcy filings.

For higher-lifestyle-seeking folks on all levels of the socio-economic ladder, the loss of a job can mean an instant cash-flow crisis.

Severance pay is shrinking or disappearing altogether. And it now takes an average of 20 weeks to find a new job, according to research by Challenger, Gray & Christmas Inc., a Chicago-based outplacement firm.

Worse: When laid-off workers do find jobs, the pay is typically significantly less.

"Employers have all the cards," said John Challenger, CEO at Challenger Gray & Christmas. "Not only are they sharpening their salary pencils, but the screening of candidates is probably the toughest it has ever been."

Most economists attribute productivity gains not to job-loss fears but to computer technology. They say large organizations still are discovering new efficiencies with all the equipment and software they deployed in the late 1990s.

"It's typical to get strong productivity gains right after a recession, as companies are more inclined to work their people harder," said Jeff Thredgold, an economist for Vectra Bank Colorado. "But the biggest driver of productivity is the fact that companies are finally figuring out how to use the technology they acquired."

Long term, rising productivity will raise standards of living as companies are able to pay workers more without raising prices. And this is a good thing if you keep your job.

Short term, however, rising productivity does not bode well for the unemployed, even as the economy continues to improve.

"If you can boost productivity by 5 percent, you don't need to hire new people," Thredgold explained.

So if you still have a job, consider your scant other employment prospects.

And when the guy next to you gets the ax, be happy to pick up the slack and make a bold contribution to the ever-rising miracle that is U.S. worker productivity.

Main Page - Wednesday, 09/03/03

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