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Art Wittmann
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Practical Analysis: 'I'd Rather Work Anywhere Else'

What beat-down, burned-out employees need is a belief that management has a vision for how things will be different.

Feel like you're doing more and getting paid less? Of course you do -- it's a recession, and that's what happens in a recession. But this time, the reality is pretty profound.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Labor Department reported that worker productivity in one quarter shot up 6.4% on an annualized basis, while labor costs dropped by 5.8%. As I talk to friends, readers, and co-workers, those numbers often translate on a personal level into feeling overworked and undervalued. People for the most part get the plight of their employers and recognize that, almost universally, business is harder to earn and the company will have fewer people to win and service the business it gets. But understanding that there isn't much to be done about a situation while simultaneously being pounded on to do more -- sometimes far more, with less, sometimes far less -- makes for a burned-out workforce.

For most U.S. companies, particularly those that sell services (and that's now most companies), making a buck is harder than ever. Buyers demand more, better, more customized services for fewer dollars, with the result being that while worker productivity is up and labor costs are down, profits on services are tighter than ever.

The result can be a feeling on the part of many workers that they'd "rather work anywhere than here." Often times, this sort of burnout, if it were isolated, would lead people to change careers, not just companies. But let's face it: If you've got a job, you're one of the lucky ones. With unemployment over 10% and underemployment far higher than that, every new job will have a pile of qualified applicants.

For managers with people in this "anywhere but here" mind-set, there are three things you can do to help. First, and probably most important, don't try to BS your way out of an honest appraisal of the state of your business and its near-term prospects. It'll catch up with you sooner or later--you know it will. Enough said.

Second, whether you think the economic upturn for your business will be in the fourth quarter or some quarter next year, start talking about what that improvement will look like. Don't make promises about hiring that you won't be able to keep. Talk about sources of new revenue and how that business will differ from what you're currently seeing. Third, during the past two years you've likely re-evaluated how you do business. Start laying out how you'll do things differently from and better than your competition. This applies to IT as much as it does to any product development, marketing, or sales team.

Bad economies don't last, but their long-term effect is a trail of outmoded business practices that linger like an oily wake behind a supertanker. What beat-down, disillusioned, burned-out employees need today is a belief that management knows that "business as usual" just plain sucks right now, and that it has a vision for how things will be different--and better--in the future.

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