How Jobs Change in Good vs. Bad Economies

When the economy is good, it’s easier to find work.

When it’s bad, it’s next to impossible to find work, and to keep it once you have it.

But that isn’t the only difference. Working almost any job in a bad environment is an entirely different experience from working when the economy is good.

Here’s just a few ways:

Employee Satisfaction

Did you know companies used to care when its employees had an issue? I know it’s hard to believe, but back in the 90’s and 2000’s, companies used to regularly hold meetings with employees for the express purpose of allowing them to air grievances they might have. Now, this opened the door for a lot of whining from pampered, coddled employees who expected everything to go their way all the time, sure, but it also allowed for employees to address legitimate issues.

Also, your manager was there if there was an issue to be addressed, or something you needed to talk about. It could be minor, it could be major, didn’t even have to be a complaint, but if for some reason you needed to talk to your manager, you could, and they understood that part of their job was being available to you.

Companies used to take great pride in how well they treated their employees. You would see ads for the company with concurrent employees bragging about how much they loved working there.

Now? Be happy you have a job. Show up, do your job and keep your head down. You don’t like how you’re being treated? Perhaps you’d like to see how unemployment treats you?

No, you won’t necessarily be fired because you complained, or at least that’s not what the paperwork will say. But right now companies are all looking for ways to reduce headcount, and if you’re too visible to management in the wrong way, you should really consider keeping a lower profile. The squeaky wheel no longer gets the grease. It gets management thinking about how they have too many wheels in rotation anyway. When they come looking for heads to chop, you might very well be the first.

A job I was working at recently made me wait two and a half months before I saw a full paycheck. Now, partially this was my fault, because the contract was misleading and I didn’t perform due diligence to figure out what was really being said. I thought it meant that I would be paid every thirty days instead of every fifteen. Honestly, the reality is something I would have considered unthinkable.

The reality is that I would submit my hours for the month to my contractor, who would then bill the company I was hired to work for (hereby known as “the client”) and once she billed them, the client had 30 days to pay her. Once she was paid by them, I would get my pay a day later. The way this played out was that I was hired in mid-December, didn’t see pay at all until the end of January, and then it was only for December’s hours. My first paycheck was only slightly more than the cost of my rent. Once I paid rent and got a few groceries, I was broke again, and I had already been broke for a month. Now I was broke for a second month in a row.

Now, thankfully I had people I could call on to help me get through that month but the idea that I was two and a half months employed before I saw even one full paycheck was, shall we say, disheartening. It felt like I was working for free. If I had not had other resources, I wouldn’t even have been able to come to work. Had it been the mid 2000’s, there is simply no way I would have stood for that, and for that matter, no way any company would have even considered operating that way. But in this environment, I addressed it with my contractor and my boss, and was told in both cases that nothing could be done, this is how it is, and I had to suck it up. I did, and it really drove home to me just how bad things can really get in a bad economy; you can even have a job and still get screwed over. I realized, however, that complaining too much about it could make me be seen as not really wanting to work there, so I didn’t talk about it much after my manager told me how things were.

Job satisfaction used to be measured in how good you felt at your job, including how much you felt the company cared about you as an employee. Now it’s just “I’m satisfied that I have a job.”

Your Time vs. the Company’s Time

I’ve always operated on the principle that if you want me to do work, you need to be paying me. If it’s my time, I’m doing whatever the hell I want. If it’s my lunch break, I’ll be eating and reading my book. Leave me to do that in peace.

Now, you might ask yourself why I don’t go to the break room if I’m on break. The answer is, not all companies even provide break rooms, and sometimes when they do, they’re pretty small, as most people are okay just eating at their desks. Two companies I worked for recently had large, quiet break rooms and in both cases I took my lunch in there, happy to do so. Another had a large, spacious, quiet foyer with tables to sit and eat, so I ate there, happy to do so. But other companies either had no break room at all (or at least, not one where there was a table to sit at and eat) or one that was so small that it would get crowded and loud very quickly. Thanks but no thanks.

So this left eating my lunch at my desk, and of course, even if you have a sandwich in one hand and your novel in the other, and are not facing your computer and are in fact doing your best to show how not on-the-clock you are, there are people who think that if you’re at your desk, you’re available. I’ve been yelled at for not answering the phone when it rings by passing managers who think that because I’m sitting at my desk while the phone is ringing, I’m obligated to answer, even if there are others in my department available, or alternately I’ve had them approach me with something they need me to drop everything and do, even with others in my department right there and able to help. And these types did not like being told “I’m on my lunch”.

At another job, I realized I was the only one who really ever took lunch. The other two guys in my department just worked through their breaks, taking a few minutes to grab food and then return to work, unless they were having lunch off site. They wouldn’t clock out for their lunches, so they were getting paid, but I started to feel guilty that I actually wanted my lunch hour. I started working through my breaks just so I wouldn’t be seen as lazy.

Now if that isn’t an illustration of how a bad economy creates a different work environment I don’t know what is. In the 2000’s, employees got upset if you even asked them if they’d be willing to work through their break, and I personally had more than one employee, who was sitting at their desk, tell me not to bother them with work because they were on their break. Breaks were sacred then. Now, they’re almost a privilege.

Speaking of privileges, I have to comment on one job I had that gave employees a fifteen-minute “preshift”, which was an on-the-clock period to allow them to fire up their computers, login to all their apps, check for morning updates, and get ready to start the day. These “preshifts” were a perk, given because the company wanted you to have time to get ready for the day. They were not a right, and this company was the only one I ever worked for that offered anything like that.

Now, I personally would always arrive early, and get my system up and running before I even clocked in. The reason was that as we got more busy, the managers started asking us to limit our shifts to five minutes, and sometimes would say preshifts were cancelled. This never bothered me, because I knew preshifts were a privilege, and I never really needed it anyway, due to getting there early. However, multiple employees (remember what I said about whining above?) started acting like not being allowed their full fifteen minutes was the same as asking them to work for free. As far as they were concerned, they shouldn’t have to do anything work related, even so much as turning their computers on, before they were being paid to do so. Now, I might be the kind of guy who doesn’t like being bothered on my lunch break, but this struck me as the height of entitled childishness. Grown men, heck, men old enough to be my father, were acting this way.

Every now and then I wonder about those guys, and how their coping in an economy where such behavior would, and often does, lead to dismissal. I wonder if they still gripe about how they’re being treated, in a world where merely having a job means they’re treating you well enough.

Slow Work

Ah, on-the-clock down time. No work is coming in, you’ve completed all the work you had on your plate, and now is the time to sorta kick back and relax for a bit. You’ve earned it, after all, you worked pretty hard, so the fact that work seems to have slowed down is good for you…

…until recently, when the more days you have like this, the more afraid you become that the company will decide you’re not necessary.

Back in the 2000’s, I used to relish slow work days because they were rare and usually came after really hectic periods. On such days, I never was guilted by any of the managers for not being engaged in work when there was no work to engage in, and even on the slowest days there would be some work to do.

Today, if even an hour goes by where I can’t find anything to do, I get nervous. I start to wonder if, or even when, the company will decide I’m superfluous and cut my position. Of course, the strangest thing is that both times I was laid off from my job due to bean-counters deciding my department was not needed, I was piled high with work that needed to be done. I still wonder if that work ever got finished.

Lazy Co-workers

There are some good things about bad economies, I suppose. Well, sorta.

I think one of the worst feelings I had back in the 2000’s was watching co-workers find creative ways to slack off, or in some cases not so creative, and yet not only did they keep their jobs, but some of them even got promoted!

The favorite tactic for some was essentially pretend they were managers. I don’t mean take on extra work for their managers, or ask if they can spend some time learning how managers do their job, I mean they would log themselves out of their phones (remember I mostly worked in call centers at the time) and would walk around coaching others. They had a way of exuding authority and convincing people that they knew what they were talking about (even if they were full of it) and often did get put into management roles full-time, because they were “taking the initiative”. The problem? They would actually brag about how they “got out of” doing their jobs by pretending to do manager duties. They would even avoid doing the real manager work, disappearing for a while and saying that they were busy helping someone else when what they were doing was having a smoke or something.

Which leads me to the next frustration; smokers who would leave the call floor every half hour for a smoke, regardless of whether or not it was break time. They would use their addiction as an excuse, and the company never did anything to stop them. Those who didn’t smoke but still wanted in on the laziness would do the “bathroom break every twenty minutes” routine. Others learned tricks like switching your phone status at the end of every call, thus putting you at the very bottom of the queue every time you went back into “active” status. Still others would simply sit around in “not ready” mode until they were told to get back on the phone, and they always had an excuse prepared for why they weren’t in the queue. Still others just mastered the art of looking busy only when being watched. That last one is dangerous because you don’t really know when you are or are not being watched, but plenty of them still got away with it.

There is some upside, I guess, in an economy like this one, where such employees can be as creative as they like with their laziness, but eventually it will catch up to them.

Or at least, most of them. I have noticed that the first group of people I talked about are still able to keep and hold jobs, sometimes better now than they used to be able to. See, they’ve mastered the art of looking, sounding and behaving managerial, and they bust their humps to work themselves into legitimate management roles…whereupon the hard work stops and the delegation begins. A lot of managers have learned how to baffle ’em with bullshit and make sure someone else is set up to take the blame when something falls apart.

Now, that doesn’t mean managers are safe. Very highly placed managers usually are, like department heads, but underneath that, they can still find themselves out of work in a minute. One of these I personally witnessed was exactly the kind of guy I described above. I don’t know if he got into his position by bullshitting his way in, but he certainly was the “delegate everything and blame the other guy” sort. It was satisfying to see him walked out.

Compensation

This one’s pretty self-explanatory. I am presently doing more work than I did in 2009, but being paid less to do it. I think to some degree, that’s true of everyone. We used to get upset if we were denied bonuses or raises. Now we’re just happy if we don’t see our hours or pay cut. One man I know had both happen to him for no other reason than that the company needed to save money.