“Well… I guess I should just be glad I have a job.”
Ugh. I sincerely feel that this distasteful phrase is the ugly ribbon tied around our pre-packaged recession malaise.
Don’t get me wrong… I AM glad to have a job. But as we grapple up this economic canyon, the lingering cries of a desperately submissive workforce have muted our national confidence. We’re a nation of wet blankets, or worse, puppies — ecstatically licking our owners’ hands. In summary: I’m tired of the groveling. I’m tired of the daily fear that, lest we function at near-robotic levels of productivity, we’ll lose our positions.
And even thought things are improving, there’s a lot that’s staying the same. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner said Thursday that the national jobless rate — now at 9.7 percent -- is "still terribly high and is going to stay unacceptably high for a very long time" because of the damage caused by the recession.
Consistent work is scarce, yes; times are tough, but we can’t forget that the American workforce is working because their skills have value. I think we sometimes forget that the companies we work for—those trying to survive just as we are — need us as well. I think I’ll finally feel like the recession is over when, not only are we grateful for our jobs, but our employers feel they’re grateful for us.
I’ve met a lot of folks in management who, despite the recession’s heavy breathing, work hard to foster a company culture which places employees first. Sure, there’s a whole line of people who’d gladly fill a vacant position, but retaining good employees is the smartest way to keep from accruing more costs. It’s important that your team members feel valued, especially when all-too-common cost-cutting measures relative to salaries or benefits can be demoralizing.
And if you think fear of job loss is a good thing (productivity numbers are up, after all), the long term affects may backfire. According to CNN :
“Jane Goldner, a hiring expert and CEO of the Goldner Group, says fear of losing one's job only motivates people for a short time.
‘We can burn the midnight oil to a certain point and then we're exhausted and we're not productive,’ Goldner says. ‘Fear does that to people.’
That fear bleeds into workers’ personal lives, she says. Some workers not only spurn offers of flex time, but they forgo personal tasks such as doctor appointments or household errands because they're afraid of being laid off. 
Companies that exploit those workers' fears get higher productivity in the short term but they eventually lose, Goldner says. When the economy improves, those same employees will jettison those companies for a more humane working environment.
‘Those companies will have a revolving door,’ Goldner says.”
What’s scary about Goldner’s remarks is you might not realize the type of environment you’re in. Have you sat your team members down and gauged their level of panic? Are some going so far above and beyond that they’re likely to burn out? It might be worth a few extra minutes of communication to be sure.
It’s also important to stress to your team that more work doesn’t necessarily equate to better work. An army of bleary-eyed “yes” men and women is probably not the type of creative team you’ve developed, and you shouldn’t let the recession manipulate the culture simply because unemployment fears make some succumb to the “work for work’s sake” mentality. Now is the time to push them creatively — so they can show not just how hard they work, but more importantly, how well-rounded they are. And at the end of the day, you’ll all be better for it.
And as far as the “recession lessons” go, I look forward to the day when I can stop doling them out… but I guess I should be glad I have a job.
How do you ensure your employees feel valued? How do you deter “over-productive” employees? Email me your thoughts at email@example.com .