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Johnny Paycheck Was Wrong

He may have been socially acceptable in 1977, when he released the David Allan Coe song, “Take This Job and Shove It,” but Johnny Paycheck’s lyrics couldn’t be more inappropriate in today’s economy, particularly for workers age 50+.

If you have a job, be thankful.

More than 11 million people are unemployed, and the number is likely to increase substantially before it reverses course. With an estimated 3.4 million jobs posted online at the end of January, there are about 3 people looking for each open position. In some states, the ratio of job seekers to vacancies is 7 to 1.

Older workers are faring marginally better, with an overall unemployment rate about 2 percentage points  below younger workers, but it takes age-55+ workers longer to find new jobs. Oftentimes, the new pay rate is considerably less than that of their previous position.

While some employers are offering buyouts and early retirement packages, others are simply laying off workers with little or no severance pay. Some companies are suspending employer matches to company savings plans, eliminating bonuses, freezing or cutting base pay, or cutting work hours.

So what does all this mean?

While you might be unhappy about not getting a raise after 20 to 30 years of uninterrupted (though perhaps small) increases in pay, staying employed is now the only priority. Even Johnny Paycheck would think long and hard about asking for a raise.

What’s particularly upsetting is that the labor productivity of U.S. workers has been on a steady increase for years. That should mean improved corporate profits and improved earnings and benefits. Unfortunately, the global economic downturn is largely wiping out most expected gains and improved rewards for our work. The news is not all bad: According to the American Compensation Association’s Annual Pay Increase Survey, about 70 percent of employers are budgeting an average 3-percent raise for employees. Some 20 to 30 percent are planning on pay reductions or no increases. Time will tell if these budgeted increases become real.

So if this is not the year to raise a stink about your pay or bonus, what can you ask for that will improve your long-term financial security, well-being, or general state of happiness? Consider:

Career Development – Requesting on-the-job or formal training that could enhance your long-term value or marketability is a good start. Take advantage of tuition reimbursement or employer-provided training. Ask to attend industry or occupational workshops, particularly low-cost programs, such as webinars and online study. Perhaps you could ask about job rotation and cross training to qualify you for future advancement or transfer.

Skills Training – This would be a good time to request computer and other job-specific training. More than ever, you must keep your skills and knowledge current and not become labeled as out of touch or not “tech-savvy.”

Work Scheduling – Find out whether your employer is open to flexible scheduling or work-from-home arrangements. You could save commuting-related expenses, even if it means working four 10-hour days. You could also have more free time.

It’s also a good time to consider making deposits into your “job security” bank. Here are some ideas:

Don’t Make Any Requests – Do your job and then some. Display no irritation about pay, benefits, or workload.

Forget Promotions – If one comes your way, terrific. Otherwise, be content.

“Face Time” Counts – Arrive early and leave late—actually pretty simple advice. Don’t use or abuse “working from home today” privileges.

Get Credit for Your Work – Make sure your boss knows what you’ve accomplished.

Volunteer and Help Out – Put in the extra effort without being asked. Seek out tasks you can do particularly well.

Put on a Happy Face – Nobody likes a sourpuss. Keep your negative comments about the employer, bosses, and coworkers to yourself.

Understand Your Boss – Focus on work that helps your boss. Bosses have bosses too, and it’s smart to help them look good.

Be Conventional – This is a good time to examine your work practices and habits. Go easy on the perfume or cologne, and don’t dress up at Halloween unless everyone else does. You don’t want to be invisible; just make sure you’re not a distraction or an annoyance.

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