Personal Finance, Work

New Work Realities

Although our economy seems to be turning a corner — home sales have continued to improve for a full three months and, as I write this, the DJIA remains over 9,000 for the second day — unemployment remains very high and layoffs continue. As one friend recently told me, she was very tired from working very long hours, not because her company was busier, but because her company had eliminated more than half of the people who worked at her level in the company. Surviving with a job in this economy is a great thing, but employment in the wake of our new economic reality can also mean changing, and often diminishing, quality of life.

If you are looking for a job, or even if you just want to keep your job, there are a lot of sometimes unpleasant factors that now must be considered seriously. If you do not consider all of them and rationally assess how your opportunities might be improved by accepting them, you are very possibly limiting your long term success. After reading the following list, assess your current prospects, and then let us know whether acceptance of one or more of the following possibilities (or necessities) will make it easier for you to thrive, or at least get by, in the new economy.

You May Have to Relocate

During the Great Depression, a huge percentage of the American population was mobile, moving from town to town and state to state in search of work. Whatever you do for a living, there may be other parts of the country that offer more opportunity for you. If you have a family, especially children who live at home, you may have to consider uprooting them so that you can better provide for them. You might not want to do so, and it will probably be very stressful, but when faced with the choice of remaining unemployed or relocating, relocation is a much more viable option.

You May Have to Separate from Your Family

I have a friend who found work out of the country. He has been commuting to Mexico from the Eastern USA every Sunday night, returning on Friday night. He does this every week and has done so for several months. He could not make nearly as much money in his home state as he does consulting in Mexico so, despite the separation from his family and the need to pay double income taxes (Mexico and USA), he leaves his family every week to ensure that they can continue to enjoy the quality of life to which they have become accustomed.

You May Have a Longer Commute

Even if you do not have to relocate or separate from your family, you may find that you need to drive an hour or more to get to your new job. There are added costs associated with commuting but if a longer commute will get you a better job — or any job — you need to accept the longer commute.

You May Make Less Money

Some money is better than no money. If you can find a job that does not pay as much as you are used to making, it is a better to bring home a paycheck and benefits and to continue to look for a better job, than to turn up your nose at the thought of taking less.

You May Receive Fewer Benefits

You might be used to great benefits at your previous job. Your new job may not offer nearly as much. You may not get as much vacation as you want or as you previously received. You need to accept that you are starting over and benefits tend to benefit more senior employees so you will have to work your way back to seniority.

You May Have to Work Longer Hours

My friend described in the introduction to this article has learned that keeping her job means she also needs to absorb the work that her laid off colleagues used to perform. She is exhausted but she is also employed. She comforts herself that when the economy does improve, her company will hire more people and she will be rewarded with the benefits of greater experience and seniority.

You May Need to Travel More

As companies have fewer employees, the employees who are retained or hired may find that they need to travel for longer periods of time. You might be used to a sales territory that covered a radius of 100 miles from your home. You may have to accept that your new territory is far greater than that and that you have a lot more driving to do. If you travel by plane, you may find that you have a great many more overnight stays. Travel may get old after a while, but it is better to be employed on the road than unemployed on your couch.

You May Need to Spend More

Your new job may not pay as much as your old job but it may cost you more to keep it. If your commute is farther each day or if you need to pay more for work-appropriate clothing, your costs will increase. That is a simple truth and one that we need to accept.

You May Need to Work for Yourself

It may be that you have a skill that no employers seem to need but that you could market effectively to your customers. If you cannot find a job, perhaps you should be finding clients and setting up shop for yourself. If you can manage it, working for oneself is always preferable.

You May Have to Change Professions

Whatever you do for a living, you may need to be flexible and look for employment in other fields. Many skills are transferable from one job to another. Do not limit yourself to what you have done in the past. Expand your opportunities based on the skills you have developed and not on the jobs that you have held.

You May Not Have the Security that You Want

The days of the gold watch at the end of a career are long past. You may take a job today only to find that it is gone tomorrow. That is our reality. If you are fortunate, you will get a bit of severance and perhaps have the opportunity to enjoy COBRA insurance benefits. If you lose a job soon after you find one, it is time to reassess all over.

What do you think? What are the difficult truths that we need to confront in the current employment market?

7 thoughts on “New Work Realities

  1. That’s why I am ok with being unemployed while I still can get the benefits. I could go and get a minimum wage job, but after all gas, extra taxes and work related expences, I would be making as much as I get for staying home and looking for a job. Plus I would not have as much time to look for free stuff and great deals, do all the money-saving work at home. I would be more likely to cook what’s convinient instead of what’s more cost-effective. Plus, the most inconvenient thing, I would have to put up with my MIL so she would watch the kids.

  2. I agree with the premises of the post, but you have to know when you’re being exploited. A company may save money by laying off people, cutting expenses, etc… but you can’t finish plowing the field if you’ve beaten the plow-horse to death from overwork.

  3. I think this post really drives home the same thing that I have been seeing during my job search for the past few months. There is still a good amount of jobs out there, but there are also lots and lots and lots of people looking for jobs. This is allowing companies to pay less and offer less, or no, benefits. No matter how undesirable these jobs are, this is the new reality.

  4. Unfortunately, the home sales data doesn’t mean nearly as much as you or most “so-called” experts seem to think. It is not ALL home sales that are up. I don’t remember if they were new or existing home sales that were up for the past 3 months, BUT, which ever ones they are, they only make up 21% of ALL home sales. So while it is good news, it isn’t great news or the end all be all that the media would like us to believe.

  5. At one point in my career, I switched from a relatively easy, driving commute to a 1 1/2 hour minimum (more of the time 2 hour)one way train and bus commute, not so much for money (after the added expense of the commute the net wasn’t very much more) as for the fact that it was closer to the grad school that I was attending at night and offered some new experiences. It was worth it, but five years later, when grad school was behind me, it was soooo nice to switch to something closer to home! Sometimes, you just do what you need to do for the exposure and experience.

    I worked for a commercial financing firm while I went to school at night to pick up the courses and credits to sit for the CPA exam. (I already had a degree in art.) They reimbursed me based on grades and I took advantage of it… and they took advantage of me! LOL When I told my father that I was leaving the firm to work for a public accounting firm, he asked whether or not I felt I owed the company anything for having paid for my school. My response was “Heck, no!” I was in a position to know that they had been paying me less than people in similar positions and had more than recouped the cost of my schooling. It didn’t bother me — we were both using each other, a fair trade in my book.

    By the way, I took a salary cut to 2/3 of what I was making in industry to go into public accounting. The tradeoff there was the professional certification, which I couldn’t get without so many hours experience in various fields in public accounting for the state I lived in. It’s not always about immediate monetary returns.

    In my lifetime, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the job market and the benefits offered. When I was young (and particularly during my father’s time), people didn’t switch jobs as often or as many times as people did 5 – 10 years ago. Retirement and healthcare benefits have changed drastically.

    I also noticed a tendency in younger workers to “expect” high salaries despite little to no experience and an all too frequent lack of work ethic — too many of them thought that they should be paid big bucks to be sitting at a desk just from 9 to 5, even though they spent half their time on the internet or their cell phones. What’s happening now is a wake up call for those people.

    On the other hand, I do know how your friend who’s being squeezed by less personnel feels! I’ve been there!!! There’s a fine line between working longer, productive hours and being abused. Long hours take a toll on your personal life and your health and it’s extremely difficult to find a balance between what is necessary to keep your job and being assertive enough to say “I just can’t do this additional project in the time allotted without some extra help.”

    There are a lot of things that need to be taken into consideration, when evaluating some of the things you talk about. For instance, relocating may mean leaving a family support system behind. If the decision is between no job and a lower paying job, the decision may be easier, but, if it’s between a higher paying job and a lower paying job but you need to leave your family behind and grandma or grandpa or siblings behind and those people were your backup for being there for your children, the decision may not be so easy.

    I’m going to be interested to see whether or not there are any long-term changes in our society and workforce expectations in general from what’s going on.

  6. It is a bit like the 1930’s in a sense. I know we are not in a depression, but unemployment for long periods forces us to do things that we never would have imagined a few years ago.

  7. I think that people should take this attitude regardless of the economy. The best jobs require us to go the extra mile.

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