Global CIO: Has The Recession Changed Us?

New Pew research shows major differences in how much economic pain different groups suffered in this recession. Business leaders will have to sort out whether these experiences bring a lasting change in how people think about jobs and careers.
InformationWeek Boardroom Journal - Oct. 2010 InformationWeek Boardroom Journal Logo
Download the entire Oct. 2010 issue of
InformationWeek Boardroom Journal
distributed in an all-digital format (registration required).

Chris Murph

Has the Great Recession changed how a generation of employees thinks about work?

There's a body of research that concludes a major economic trauma shapes people's long-term views when it comes to savings and investing. Note how our Depression-surviving family members tend to scowl at debt.

But before you pick the easy "of course" answer to whether the recession has changed our view of work, consider recent research that shows a sizable minority of Americans feel like they've ridden this storm out in one piece. This recession looks like a stark tale of haves and have-nots, according to a just-published Pew Research Center survey. It finds 55% of Americans say they lost ground in the recession, while a surprising 45% say they at least held their own.

What the Pew report finds most striking is the gulf between the two camps in terms of economic pain. Of those who lost ground, 54% were just getting by or falling short of monthly expenses, and more than 40% said the recession forced major changes in how they live.

On the other side, 80% of those who held their own are "living comfortably" or have money left over after paying their monthly bills. "Unlike their less fortunate counterparts, not a single one says the recession has forced major lifestyle changes," says the report.

The survey also highlights how hanging onto a job often wasn't enough in this recession. In the "held their own" group, only 1% were unemployed at some point in the recession. No surprise there. But in the "lost ground" camp, 43% were unemployed at some point in the recession. That means for 57% of those who lost ground, keeping a job wasn't enough.

So will the recession make workers more risk averse and less likely to job hop-or less loyal, less confident a job will last, and more likely to jump? The questions are more than academic for business leaders on the frontlines of building a workplace culture. If attitudes have changed, they need to consider that in how they recruit, communicate, and nurture careers.

HR Is Changing With The Times

The good news is that many HR teams seem genuinely driven to shake up long-held practices, to get the workforce's and the business' needs more in tune, and thus be more ready to react to whatever comes next. New systems focused on talent or performance management are "top of mind" for 42% of HR pros, finds an August report from HR consultancy Towers Watson. That's up from 35% last year. Such systems help manage tasks such as more frequent goal-setting and better linking between company results and reviews, and they could be a critical tool for reacting to whatever job jitters and retention problems emerge from the recession.

At InformationWeek, we see changing attitudes among IT employees, the workforce we know best. Our annual U.S. IT Salary Survey gauges what matters most to IT pros. Compared with 2008, before the recession, the biggest increases this year were for recognition for work well done, having the tools and support to do the job well, and skill development and training. Our take: More IT pros realize they need to make sure they're doing valuable work-and being recognized for it.

We don't know if these changes will stick if employment improves. People will come out of this recession with different lessons, depending on their experiences. In another recent Pew survey, more than half of people who got laid off, but were out of work less than six months, think their new job is better. For those out of work more than six months, only 36% say their new job's better. What lesson will your employees take from the downturn? Be ready for anything.