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Economic Downturn Forces Employees to Change Employment Plans

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RISMEDIA, April 20, 2009-As the latest state and regional unemployment figures are announced, and last week CEOs at the nation’s largest companies predicted more layoffs, a new survey finds 94% of full-time employees willing to save jobs by changing or reducing their schedule, or taking a pay cut. The finding is from the 2009 Annual Work+Life Fit Reality Check, a telephone survey of a national probability sample of 757 full-time employed adults, sponsored by Work+Life Fit, Inc. and conducted by Opinion Research Corporation March 26 – 30.

Survey results include:
-Nine in ten employees (90%) reported the recession has forced them to change their employment plans including nearly half saying they’re less likely to take a career break, for example to care for children or aging relatives.
-Work-life flexibility has not changed during the economic downturn. Most companies continue to offer the same or an increased amount of opportunities, and most employees reported their flexibility use has either increased or stayed the same during the past year.
-More than half of those surveyed are optimistic that new national legislation or programs will be created that will make it easier for organizations to offer, and for individuals to have, more work-life flexibility.

“Regardless of economic boom or doom, work-life flexibility is here to stay,” said Cali Williams Yost, CEO, Work+Life Fit, Inc. “Now we have to figure out how to use flexibility to help manage our businesses and our lives, both of which are forever changed by this recession.”

Change My Schedule, Cut My Hours or My Pay Before You Cut My Job

In order to save their jobs and help their employers reduce costs, nearly 8 in 10 employees would be willing to work a compressed workweek, while nearly 60% would take additional unpaid vacation days or furloughs (several weeks off without pay). Nearly half would share their jobs with colleagues (48%), or take a cut in both pay and hours (47%). A little more than 4 in 10 would take a pay cut but work the same amount of hours or switch to a project-based contractor employment status (41%). Just under a third say they would take a month or more unpaid sabbatical.

“Organizations, who looked first at who we can cut instead of how we can change by using workplace flexibility, have missed an opportunity to reduce operations, equipment, real estate and health care costs. Future revenues are at risk, too, if organizations are not fully staffed when the economy improves,” said Yost. “The mortgage industry was one of the first to shed jobs. Now they can’t keep up with refinancing demands.”

CEOs at the nation’s 61 largest companies reported they expect more job cuts. That’s the highest level noted since 2002 when the Business Roundtable began the quarterly CEO survey.

“Layoffs will always be a possibility. It’s not an all or nothing choice – flexibility or layoffs,” Yost added.

The same kind of flexibility that can be used to manage labor costs can also save other expenses. BDO Seidman, LLP, a national professional services firm, sees workplace flexibility as more than a way to minimize layoffs. Flexibility is the way BDO runs their business.

The firm’s CFO, Howard B. Allenberg, estimates, “If our BDO Flex strategy allows us to reduce our space requirements or not take on as much additional space by just five percent going forward, we could save more than $1.7 million per year in office and equipment rentals and related occupancy costs.”

Recession Has Minimal Effect on Work-Life Flexibility Offerings or Use

Only 2% reported they currently do not have any work-life flexibility. Of the 98% who do, nearly 20% reported they have more work-life flexibility now than at this time last year while 62% said they have the same and only 17% reported less.

These respondents noted that 90% of them work at companies who offer flexibility and 85% of them noted the amount of flexibility provided has either increased (19%) or stayed the same (66%) during the past year.

“Workplace flexibility has repeatedly demonstrated a remarkably tenacious streak during previous economic downturns,” according to Kathie Lingle, executive director of alliance for Work-Life Progress. “Erroneously labeled ‘soft’ by the uninformed, flexibility practices appear to be holding their own in these particularly tough times. Flexibility requires little to no monetary investment because at its core, it’s a management philosophy. It may morph and adapt, but it will most definitely survive.”

Job insecurity, for an overwhelming majority, has not scared employees away from flexibility. Despite record levels of layoffs, 85% said there was either an increase (11%) or no change (74%) in the likelihood they would use work-life flexibility.

Recession Forces Dramatic Changes in Employment Patterns but Working More Doesn’t Have to Mean Less Flexibility

While the recession has had little effect on work-life flexibility, it has forced 90% of those surveyed to change their employment plans. Nearly 60% expect to stay with their current employer longer than first planned (58%) and do some form of work during retirement (58%). More than half (56%) reported saving more and spending less in anticipation of future job changes. And, in what could have significant consequences for child and elder care, 47% are less likely to voluntarily leave the workforce for a period of time. Women (56%) were significantly more likely than men (40%) to say they are less likely to voluntarily leave the workforce.

“Both businesses and individuals face unprecedented financial demands, but that doesn’t mean there has to be less workplace flexibility. In fact, it’s the opposite,” said Work+Life Fit’s Yost. “We need to learn how to structure and use flexibility so it meets personal and business goals. Flexibility is not about working less, it’s about working differently. That’s what most people want, and business needs.”

For more information, visit http://worklifefit.com.

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