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Those who escape layoffs shouldering more work, stress to keep job

Sharon Hayes • Jan 10, 2009 at 12:00 AM

KINGSPORT — Day after day, Patty leaves home before dawn and returns well after dusk, exhausted from long hours at work and loads of stress.

“They laid off several people in my department, so I’m having to cover their workload plus mine, and I’m tired,” said Patty, who asked that her real name not be used for fear it would further jeopardize her job.

Her employer has frozen wages indefinitely and implemented other cost-saving measures, including cuts in some benefits.

Put simply, she’s working longer hours for less.

“But I shouldn’t complain. I’m just thankful I still have a job,” Patty said.

Terri, who works with a local health care organization, said her employer slashed salaries last week by more than 10 percent to help cut costs in her department.

“I’m not sure how I’m going to make ends meet now,” said Terri. “I wonder what’s next?”

Janet has also been impacted by the economic downturn. A receptionist at a local manufacturing company, she’s watched as co-workers have gotten pink slips and cardboard boxes to pack up their personal belongings.

Now she’s working several nights a week at home, just trying to keep up with her daily workload plus that of her laid off co-workers.

“I’ve got to do anything and everything I can right now just to keep this job,” she said.

Employees across the country are feeling the effects of the nation’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

On Friday, the U.S. Labor Department reported that another 524,000 jobs were slashed across the country in December, pushing the nation’s unemployment rate to 7.2 percent — the highest level in 16 years.

In all, the U.S. lost a net total of 2.6 million jobs in 2008 — the most since 1945, when nearly 2.8 million jobs were lost.

The cuts have been devastating for those who’ve been laid off. But many of those still on the job are suffering too, from pay cuts to increased workloads to the stress of wondering if they’ll be next.

Tom Moore, assistant professor of marketing and management at East Tennessee State University, said employees who still have a job should realize that “there are some sacrifices they have to make.”

“The important thing for them to think about is — be thankful that they have a job, and be very flexible, because the employers a lot of times really try to do their best in keeping people. But what that means a lot of times is — employees may have to do things that are outside of their job description, or they may have to be cross-trained in some things, or do a lower-level position just to maintain the job and the viability of the organization,” Moore said. “That’s a tough thing for a lot of people to go through.”

Some workers may consider calling it quits. But for most employees, quitting is not an option — particularly now. First, most employers aren’t hiring. Second, many employees, who may be in their 50s and have worked at the same organization for years, would lose more by leaving an organization than by staying.

“At this point it’s more about hanging on to what they have, because the potential for loss is greater by leaving,” Moore said.

He said layoff survivors often feel guilty because their jobs were spared while their co-workers were sent packing.

Survivors may also fear they’ll be next on the chopping block, so they’ll work harder than ever.

Eventually, the stress of the workplace situation catches up.

Moore said the main contributor of stress is ambiguity. And during times of economic uncertainty and layoffs, workers oftentimes find their jobs and their roles change.

“They don’t know exactly what the next day is going to hold for them, so that is one of the primary causes of stress — ambiguity,” Moore said.

And studies have shown that workers who are stressed tend to have more ailments and more missed days from work, he said.

Moore said an employee’s attitude is key to helping him or her cope during difficult days.

“It’s a choice — they have to choose to look at the extra work that they’re doing and what’s going on in the organization as maybe an opportunity to show their worth to the organization, or an opportunity to maybe increase their skills, or maybe even an opportunity to network with people that they may not otherwise be able to network with,” Moore said.

“People who are layoff survivors can look at these things as a positive if they choose to and take steps that could benefit them later on,” he added.

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