Letting work slip through the cracks

I’m sure there are no official statistics on this, but I wonder how many of us are getting a bit sloppy at work these days?

It’s not intentional. And it’s not laziness. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Employees are taking on more work at their jobs. They have to: A growing number of companies are operating with skeleton staffs thanks to all the layoffs and firings caused by the recession.

At my job, where I’m the editor of a trade magazine, I’ve lost my one staff writer. I now put the magazine together on my own. Earlier this month, my bosses gave me one more magazine to help edit, increasing my workload again.

I’m happy to have my job. I just wish there wasn’t so much of it to deal with.

Because I am taking on this extra work, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a bit sloppy. I missed a freelance deadline today. I forgot to send back some interview questions for another Web site earlier this week. And this morning, I begged off a writing assignment I had taken on. I just didn’t have time to do a good job on it.

That’s terribly unprofessional, of course. But for my addled brain, there was no other solution.

What about you? Are you overworked these days? Are you letting the little things — or maybe some big things — slip through the cracks?

Fewer job openings means more unemployment

The number of job openings hit a new low in April. Not surprisingly, this has caused unemployment to jump again, this time by 0.5 percent in May.

You can read the dismal numbers in this story in the Nashville Business Journal. The basics, though, are this: As of the last day of April, there were 2.5 million job openings in the country, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That’s the lowest number of openings since the Labor Department first started tracking them in 2000.

The number of openings is also a 3.9 percent drop from the end of March, and a 36.2 percent fall from April of 2008.

So you wonder why unemployment can’t seem to fall? This is why. There just aren’t enough jobs available right now. It’s clear, then, that the nation’s recession won’t end until employers finally begin hiring people again.

When’s that going to happen? That’s the big question.

Obama promises more than 600,000 new jobs

The unemployment rate for the nation is now above 9 percent. That’s pretty awful. Pres. Barack Obama isn’t happy about this, either. After all, high unemployment figures are keeping the economy from recovering.

Today, Obama promised that the $787 billion stimulus plan will result in more than 600,000 new jobs this summer.

Federal agencies are expected to spend billions of dollars on public-works projects, schools and summer youth programs. And all these projects will bring jobs, Obama said.

The new jobs will certainly help. But these don’t exactly look like stable, long-term jobs. What the country really needs is for companies to start hiring again.

I wonder, though, if this recession has signifcantly altered the world of business. Will companies that have shed so much of their workforce continue to expect their employees to do more work without any pay increases even after the economy recovers? Have businesses discovered that they can squeeze even more work out of their employers?

I certainly hope not. But as I look at the publishing company where I work, and see the amount of work that our now skeletal staff is turning in, I wonder if my bosses might get used to this.

You want to be a mortgage loan officer? Really

I have a friend who wants to work as a mortgage loan officer. And that’s with me telling him everyday that mortgage lending squeezes the life out of people. It’s a stressful job. Customers get angry with you when you quote them interest rates that they think are too high. The folks who qualify the mortgage loans officers make are always mad, too, finding all the mistakes that loan officers make.

The government’s constantly on the backs of mortgage companies these days, seemingly waching every loan they make for improprieties. And then there’s the public: We hate mortgage loan officers these days. In fact, many of us place a large share of the blame for today’s recession at the feet of mortgage lenders who kept on making stupid mortgage loans to people who should never have owned homes.

All that being said, my friend wants to enter this profession. That’s even considering the huge number of mortgage loan officers that have either been fired or who have fled the profession in the last year-and-a-half.

I asked him what he was thinking. He told me that there’s less competition now. A good businessman, like himself, can really thrive in the industry today.

Interesting theory. It’s one I hadn’t considered. It might also explain those people who are now working toward real estate licenses. With home sales still sluggish, you wouldn’t think that anyone would want to be a realtor these days. But there are people taking the plunge.

Maybe in some ways it does make sense to enter an industry when it’s down. There is less competition. It’s easier to make a name for yourself if you’re smart, hardworking and good at what you do.

We’ll see what happens to my friend. Maybe he’ll be the one laughing as he rakes in the big bucks.

Of course, he might be back at the unemployment line soon, too.

Rising healthcare costs, unemployment a double whammy

It’s hard enough on people that unemployment rates are at record levels across the country. They also have to deal with rising health-care costs.

The Los Angeles Times today ran a story that pointed out what’s painfully obvious to most of us: Medical bills are pushing more families toward financial ruin.

The Times story cites a Harvard University study that says that medical bills played a significant role in 62 percent of all the bankruptcies filed in the United States in 2007. That’s a big increase from 2001. The same researchers then found that medical bills contributed to 55 percent of all bankruptcies filed.

Pres. Barack Obama has made health-care reform a priority. And the public is certainly in need. The problem is, can we trust the government and the health-insurance industry to work together to come up with comprehensive health-care legislation that actually helps the public?

I don’t know. Government tends to make problems worse, when it isn’t attending to them long after it’s too late.

We’ll find out, though. Obama has asked Congress to provide him comprehensive health-care legislation by October. So some changes are undoubtedly on the way.

Freelancers, are you even considering asking for more money?

These are tough times. Really tough times. According to news reports, a growing number of employees, if they haven’t been fired, are being forced to take mandatory days off without pay.

It’s all a bit depressing out there in the working world.

But what about those freelancers, those writers, editors or consultants who are the hired guns of the work world? How’s it going for them?

Specifically, are any freelancers out there actually asking for raises from their clients? Say you’re a freelance writer — like I am — are you even considering asking your clients for a bit more from every story?

This is usually a good way to grow your income without having to do more work. But in today’s economy, I have a feeling that most freelance writers, or freelancers of any stripe, aren’t asking for any extra dollars from their existing clients.

It’s a bit unfortunate. I imagine that those freelancers who perform a valuable service might be able to squeeze a bit more out of their existing clients. After all, these clients don’t really want to go out and find replacement freelancers. Who knows if these new workers will do the job at the same level of quality?

This economy, though, has made us workers timid. So here’s my promise: I’ll ask some of my steadier clients for small raises. Most will probably refuse, and point to the economy as the reason why. I understand that. But even if one or two clients do provide me a few extra bucks per assignment, then that makes the asking worthwhile.

How to suck up to your boss

This is a good time to impress your boss. I know a lot of you don’t enjoy sucking up to the folks in charge. But if you’re not going to do it when unemployment levels are soaring, when are you going to do it?

Here, then, are some sucking-up tips I’ve observed from my once-a-week forays into the offices of the publishing company for which I work.

1. If you’re going to play one of those free games that come with your computer while on company time, go with solitaire. It looks more “heady” than getting caught playing mine sweeper.

2. I know it’s sometimes hard to continually pay attention when your boss is throwing at you his 15th idea this week for surviving the recession. But don’t fall asleep. And if you do, try not to fall out of your chair.

3. My company has a section in their employee handbook that forbids workers from eating in the company bathrooms. I know it’s tempting, but don’t eat that hoagie in the fourth-floor restroom.

4. Bosses like friendly employees. When you’re cussing out a co-worker, make sure to smile.

5. Finally, if you thought the doughnut you were grabbing at the breakfast meeting was filled with custard, try not to spit it back in the box when you discover it’s lemon-filled instead.

Can you really find a job through Twitter?

The WalletPop blog had a fascinating post today about Twitter and its usefulness for people searching for a new job.

I won’t bore you with reciting what the blog says, but I do find it hard to believe that Twitter really can help you find a job. In fact, I find Twitter to be pretty much unhelpful for just about anything.

I know it’s extremely popular. And I do use the service. It’s just that I don’t ever see too many positive business effects from using it. I can’t even seem to use it to drive extra visitors to any of the blogs that I write.

Am I using Twitter incorrectly? Or is Twitter really more of a personal thing and not a business tool?

Does anyone ever hear back from craigslist job ads?

Maybe it’s just me. I consider myself to be fairly skilled at what I do. After all, I’ve written for the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, BusinessWeek Online and a host of respected magazines and newspapers.

Yet, whenever I reply to a help-wanted job for writers at craigslist — even when I reply to some of the crappier postings on the site — I receive no response.

It’s like I’m throwing my writing samples and resume’ into a black hole.

I was beginning to think it was just me. I must be doing something wrong, I figured. Then I spoke to a friend in public relations who is looking for a new job. She, too, says that she never gets responses from craigslist. And whenever she puts her own ads on craigslist — looking for work — she only receives generic replies from headhunters or multi-level marketing folks.

I was relieved to find out that it wasn’t just me. But that doesn’t make the craigslist silence any less annoying.

What’s wrong with me, craigslisters? Why do you ignore me so?

Desperate? Try a LaidOffCamp

If you’ve been out of work for a long time, you undoubtedly need to vent. I understand that. That’s why I think the LaidOffCamp is a neat idea.

The Wall Street Journal ran an interesting story today about these camps, which are held across the country. Basically, they offer the unemployed a chance to network, learn about job-hunting resources and, of course, vent about their situations.

In fact, it may be this last part that’s so important.

Being unemployed can be an awfully lonely life. It helps to once in a while gather with other people who are sharing your same pain and kvetch. There is some real truth in that old phrase about misery loving company.

Visit the LaidOffCamp site and see if there are any popping up near you. Face it, you need to blow off some steam.