Workers in the Recession: Stress, Boredom and Too Little Pay


Sure, the recession has been hard on the unemployed. But what about workers who still have jobs? Turns out, they are depressed, too. They are exhausted, underpaid and treated badly by their bosses, but have been afraid to speak up. And now they are looking to move on to new jobs.

"Many workers feel overworked, underappreciated and underpaid," says Brett Good, district president for southern California at Robert Half International, a recruiting firm. "Between 40 and 52% are saying that if the market improved, I'd consider making a job change."

According to a study by the firm, 37% of professionals who were polled said they felt they were not being fairly compensated for taking on a greater workload during the recession. "People are working harder and more productively and they have almost reached a boiling point," Good says.

A Heavy Load

Michael Erwin, a senior career adviser at the jobs website, says that many employers had no choice but to pile on the workload.

"Employers did what they had to do to keep the lights on in their organizations and they had to make cuts so they could keep their operations going," Erwin says. "When you look at the fact that one in five workers is dissatisfied with their work/life balance, I think this shows the stress level is much higher than in years past."

Erwin noted that when the recession first hit, employees were spooked by constantly seeing people being laid off. "People just hunkered down and did not complain if they had too much work, did not take vacation time and tried to be that model employee," he says.

But that attitude is changing rapidly. According to a survey CareerBuilder conducted in the second quarter, one fourth of employees said they were planning on leaving their jobs in the next 12 months. "I think that's a trend you will see over the next year," Erwin says.

A third of the 4,000 workers polled attributed their desire to quit their job to recession-related factors such as being overworked or resentment at seeing friends laid off. Another third felt overqualified for the position they were in and 23% said they were bored with their jobs. One other reason workers may be seeking greener pastures: 15% of employers surveyed said they had cut wages in the last year.

A Changing Job Market

However, Erwin says that employees can now sense a change in the job market. For example, the number of jobs posted on the CareerBuilder website since the beginning of the year has increased 10% each month, he says.

Robert Half's Good says that during the past 18 months, the firm would often offer jobs to candidates, only to be turned down because the candidate was afraid of losing a good paycheck. Now, however, "the same candidates are reaching out to us saying, 'let me know if something crosses your radar that I might be a good fit for.'"

Bolting your job, it turns out, seems age dependent. According to survey data Robert Half collected, 36% of workers aged 21 to 31 are planning on finding a new job, but only 30% of those aged 32 to 45 are looking for work. Of those aged 45 to 64, the so-called baby boom generation, only 24% were planning to quit. But a majority of those old timers say they are going to work past the traditional retirement age.

Erwin says most of the jobs being posted now are in revenue generating areas like sales and marketing, which were the first career categories to be hit when the recession arrived. "Companies recognize this is an opportunity to make some money, get some people in there who can really generate revenue and move the business forward," he says.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Wednesday that the number of job openings in the country had reached 3 million. Although that was only a minor increase from the previous month, it is up dramatically from the trough of 2.3 million job openings that was reached in July, 2009.