Employees Scared To Take Time Off During Recession

tired at work
Photo credit: Alexander Kolov

Labor experts examining the modern workplace have found that employees today are less likely to take time off than employees before the start of the 2008 recession.

Despite the fact that the recession officially ended back in 2009, the unemployment and the underemployment rate is still high.

A recent survey performed by the Families and Work Institute found that not only are employers cutting back on maternity-leave pay, pension plan contributions, and allotted vacation time, but employees themselves are spending less vacation time and are less likely to negotiate for benefits. They’re also less likely to ask for a raise, and more likely to feel stressed.

With so many people looking for work or not getting enough work hours, employees fear that if they take time off or exercise their allotted vacation time, they may be replaced by other workers clamoring for a chance to advance or find work in a difficult job market.

Experts say that this finding can be applied to American workers from all walks of life, from minimum wage laborers, to high-powered professionals.

The situation is classic economics 101 – when demand far outstrips supply – those who control the supply hold all the power. In this case, employers control the supply of jobs, and there is a tremendous demand for those jobs. Employees have to cede benefits, vacation time, and feel they have little choice but to cater to employer demands. This usually means longer work hours, and work hours that are more likely to intrude into evenings or weekends. Employees even feel obliged to come into work when they’re sick, after all, if they call in sick, there is no shortage of workers willing to fill their shoes.

But its not just about employers being “meanies” and leveraging their increased power over employees. The rough economy has hit many businesses hard as well, and many employers feel obliged to squeeze as much profit as possible from each employee. Often, this translates into more work hours.

How Do Employees Find A Balance?The study brings up interesting questions about how workers can maintain a healthy work-life balance in an economy that is still struggling to recover. With all those exhausting hours expended in a struggle to stay ahead of the pack in a scary economy, how are working parents faring on the home front?

The good news is that studies show that parents are still finding time to spend with their kids. According to another study by the Families and Work Institute, the average working parent still spends 3 hours a day day with their children on workdays.

Is there anything that can be done to shift the power back to employees and reduce employee stress? Ultimately, its up to managers and employees to work together to improve their lifestyles while maintaining productivity. Good managers might realize that working at a sustainable pace and allowing employees to feel that their stress is being taken into account can have positive effects on productivity. But until employees start to feel in control of their own destiny again, employers who aim to squeeze every last waking hour out of their workers will continue to do so.

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