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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

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By NOLA L SARKISIAN

Staff Reporter

Some people call them “cardiac arrest” careers, those jobs that seem to consume virtually all waking hours and every ounce of energy.

To address the issues confronting L.A.’s increasingly harried workforce, the Business Journal spoke with Larry Colson, vice president of consulting services at the Employers Group, a Los Angeles-based not-for-profit association. The Employers Group is the nation’s oldest employer human resources services provider, serving some 5,000 companies statewide. Colson, a former human resources executive for CareAmerica and Litton Industries, has spent 25 years in the field.

Question: In what ways are specific industries becoming more stressful?

Answer: First of all you have to look at the definition of stress it really involves being in a position with issues you can’t control. In entertainment, stress is not so much related to fear about losing your job because of consolidation it’s the stress of being in a highly competitive industry to break into and stay in. In banking and health care, the wave of mergers is definitely a major source of stress in that it is creating lots of uncertainty about the future of careers. Also employees in merger-impacted industries often find themselves doing double-duty.

Q: Are people generally working longer hours?

A: Oh yes, absolutely. By definition, if you’re in merger mode, more is expected out of everyone. It doesn’t always mean more hours equals more stress. If people understand why they’re working longer hours and feel that they are part of the team, they’re willing to pitch in and help out. But if they’re not in tune to what’s going on and are unclear as to how they fit into the future puzzle of the company, they are going to be stressed.

Q: What are companies doing to help workers cope?

A: They’re looking at more creative ways of structuring the work environment. They’re looking at alternate work schedules, scaling back hours and telecommuting options to keep employees happy. So much stuff can be done remotely with technology. If people can work at home, they have more flexibility with family and child-care issues. And the company benefits by saving on costs for a computer, telephone and work space. As long as the work product is measurable employers can gauge that the work is being done why would an enlightened company care where the work is being done?

Q: How are individuals coping?

A: People with killer, long-hour jobs are trying to take control of the situation. They know that if their skills are in demand, they’re not worried about the future. They know that they will be needed elsewhere and don’t need to align with any one company. So many people are willing to freelance; they don’t want to be under the wing of a big company. It’s a change from the past when people would stay with a company throughout their career for job security. Others are just pulling up stakes and moving to Oregon and getting out of the rat race.

Q: What sectors of the workforce are most affected?

A: I see it in mid-management. They’re at a vulnerable position. When companies merge, they get rid of those middle layers. The job is also less-defined. In an industry, if you’re at the top, you have the controls and resources to get things done. If you’re at the other end of the spectrum, you know what is expected of you and are required to put in only so many hours. But in middle-management, you’re pulled by both sides for different issues.

Q: Are technological advances exacerbating or helping ease work demands?

A: Technology is a welcome tool for most people. The learning curve is so quick now that even if you have a new system, it’s more user-friendly. A decade or two ago, it was an overwhelming challenge. With some DOS systems, you would have to go through 15 commands just to turn the computer on and that scared a lot people. Now that’s not a problem.

Q: Can workers expect their work days to keep getting progressively longer?

A: People are only productive so many hours of the day and companies know that. No one will throw up their arms and say they can’t work more than 40 hours a week when there’s a pinch. Yet, if this becomes the consistent norm, companies will lose good employees. Companies that offer balanced portfolios of activities to keep and attract employees will do well.

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