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Americans rethinking role of work amid painful recession, says COB researcher

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Widespread layoffs and other job changes associated with the Great Recession have caused workers to question career-related sacrifices, including time away from family, less leisure time and fewer self-improvement activities.

Those are some of the findings of a recent study conducted by Wayne Hochwarter, the Jim Moran Professor of Business Administration in the Florida State University College of Business, and research associates Tyler Everett and Stuart Tapley, who also play baseball for the Seminoles. They examined the recession’s role in changing employees’ thoughts about work, commitment to their families, and the pursuit of a more balanced lifestyle.

“The objective of the study was to see if we could identify shifts in thinking, as well as the causes of these changes,” Hochwarter said.

Opinions gathered from more than 1,100 full-time employees, across a range of occupations and career stages, showed the following:

* 48 percent reported that the recession increased their appreciation of family;

* 37 percent reported that the recession promoted thoughts that work isn’t as important as it once was in the grand scheme of things;

* 49 percent admitted that the recession helped them recognize the value of people over things;

* 23 percent indicated that the recession increased awareness of an over-commitment to work at the expense of family and recreation;

* 42 percent confirmed that most of what happens at work is out of one’s control regardless of commitment and effort; and

* 43 percent agreed that the recession increased motivation to be a better person rather than just a better employee.

Finally, more than 70 percent of employees acknowledged that most days at work “seem like they will never end” — a commonly held belief in work settings where increasingly more time and output is expected with less support and fewer guaranteed rewards.

The study also indicated that recession-related stress tends to manifest differently in men and women.

“Digging a little deeper into the data, it was evident that men’s reflective, and often remorseful, thoughts were driven by recession-related job insecurity and its subsequent role in encouraging hostile work treatment,” Hochwarter said. He suggests that it is common for work stress to push employees to places that they would not otherwise go, both in terms of thoughts and actions, when it reaches intolerable levels.

Such stress is apparent in the comment of one study participant, a 48-year-old manager of a production facility who was laid off by his longtime employer.

“I broke my back for this company, missed my kids growing up, and for what? Nothing!” the man said.

Women’s thoughts, on the other hand, were triggered by conflicts between work and family obligations. Women reported that job obligations have increased in recent years — both in terms of time and energy — resulting in fewer hours engaged in family life.

The researchers cast these findings in a positive light, however.

“The fact that many employees spent time evaluating the importance of non-work factors may be the first step in reducing the stress associated with imbalanced lives,” Tapley said.

“Many of the people that we talked to felt that having less faith in work afforded them opportunities to direct more faith toward other often-neglected areas of life, and in most cases, it was family and friends,” Everett added.

The balance-seeking trend will likely continue as more Millennial Generation employees — those born roughly between the mid-1970s and the early 2000s — enter, and influence, the work force. With more than 70 million cohort members, Millennials offer a unique perspective, one in which work shares equal (or lesser) status with other important aspects of life such as friends, family and leisure.

Comments made by a 44-year-old accounting director, who experienced drastic changes in terms of responsibility and pay in recent years, characterize study results and conclusions: “I’ve learned a lot from the younger people we hired here in the past few years. I’ve learned that there is a big world out there away from work where there are fun things to do and people who care about me not because I pay the bills, but because I’m Dad. I wish management around here would take their lead, or better yet, let them run things. Everyone would feel less stressed out!”

Hochwarter’s research is being prepared for publication.

See more on this story at My Florida News.

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