The working wounded

Posted 10/16/09

The national unemployment rate is rapidly approaching 10 percent as companies continue to trim the fat they don’t have. News of closing doors, …

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The working wounded


The national unemployment rate is rapidly approaching 10 percent as companies continue to trim the fat they don’t have.

News of closing doors, massive layoffs and budget cuts fill the papers.

Yet, the story of how downsizing and penny-pinching is affecting morale and productivity of the remaining employees remains largely untold.

Kendra Kleeman is a 34-year-old customer service representative at a jewelry store in Cherry Creek. When she was hired, there were four people working the service counter.

Two years and one economic crisis later, she’s the last employee standing.

“My work load has doubled. I’m working 12-hour days and we didn’t get raises this year,” said Kleeman, a Centennial resident.

But she is training one new person which is a good sign, she added.

“Even if companies haven’t literally lost their employees, many have lost them psychologically,” said Jon Gordon, a national speaker and consultant on life and career strategies.

“And ultimately, an organization’s failure or success is determined by the moods, innovation, energy, thoughts, and behaviors of the people who work there.”

Like Kleeman, employees are feeling more stressed and overworked as the economy slowly turns around.

Sales are starting to grow and many companies are starting to make money again, but they’re doing it by cutting costs and squeezing more work out of fewer employees.

“Employees are faced with doing more with less,” said Jenny Schade, the president of JRS Consulting, a management and marketing consulting firm in Chicago.

“The organization is often so focused on getting through tough times that they don’t determine in advance how the remaining employees are going to do all the work that everybody was doing to begin with.”

A survey by CareerBuilder reported that 47 percent of workers say they have taken on more responsibility as a result of the economy. Thirty-seven percent say they are doing the work of two people.

Overworked employees cost businesses surprising amounts of money to cover for the increase in errors on the job, as well as all of the stress related illnesses that are popping up everywhere, according to Gordon.

Overworked employees can account for some of the highest health costs ever seen.

In Kleeman’s case, she recently developed eczema that gets worse when she uses certain chemicals to clean jewelry — a job she didn’t used to have to do.

“It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this atmosphere is not conducive to an organization’s success, now or in the future,” Gordon said.

Focus on the people, not the numbers, is his advice to employers.

“Your company isn’t what shows up in the finance department’s spreadsheets — it’s the finance people themselves, and the human resources department, and the salespeople, and support staff.”

“The numbers are just measurements and indicators of how well your people are executing.”

Gordon encourages employers to be examples of good behavior since they set the tone for how employees respond to almost every situation.

Greet a worker cheerfully even though you’ve both had to come into work an hour early, he said.

“Whatever you expect from your employees, you must also expect from your senior leadership,” Gordon said.

Most importantly, employers must communicate, he said.

“These are uncertain times. Employees are questioning how their industries and jobs will be impacted by the current economy. They’re unsure about what actions to take. Unfortunately this uncertainly creates a void,” he said.

And voids breed negativity.

“You must be seen and heard, and you must also hear and see.”

While much of Gordon’s advice is for employers, employees also play a part.

In the words of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, “It’s time for us to keep it together and get it together, together.”

“You can’t fall apart when things get difficult,” said Joan Borysenko on a segment on KGNU radio station in Boulder. Borysenko is the author of “It’s Not the End of the World: Developing Resilience in Times of Change.”

“The world is in a crisis but we don’t have to be. Some people stress out and melt down. Resilient people bounce back from hardship and create their best lives.”

In order to bounce back, Borysenko suggests doing something good for someone else.

“It’s the clearest way to alleviate the problem and become part of the solution,” she said.

“If we cultivate gratitude, a sense of humor, and we then use that to contribute in some way in our jobs, then we’re cultivating positive energy and giving that back,” said KGNU radio talk show host Duncan Campbell.

“Give attention and concern to others and other activities,” he said.

“And do what you can for the good of the whole,” Borysenko added.


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