Who exactly is in charge of moving me from cubicle to cubicle?

Who wants to switch cubicles?

Who wants to switch cubicles?

I’ve worked at a publishing company in downtown Chicago for 11 years. In that time, I’ve sat in 12 different cubicles.

There’s always a reason: The bosses want to group all the writers together. Or they want managers in one portion of the floor and flunkies in another section. Or maybe they want all the production designers in one corner and all the sales reps in another.

I can generally count on staying at one cubicle for about five months. Then somebody comes up with a new idea and I’m on the move again.

Because I mostly work from home — I telecommute four days a week — this isn’t too bad. I have it down to one metal tray; That’s all I take with me when I move from cubicle to cubicle. The IT folks take care of the rest.

I wonder, though, who exactly is the person who decides that it’s time for people to sit at different cubicles? Is this just a person who doesn’t have enough to do? Or is this a person who thinks that by moving workers around, they’ll somehow help build morale?

I don’t know. But it can’t be too hard to determine who’s in charge of cubicle switches: Just look for the person who hasn’t moved from his or her own cubicle in 10 years.

Sharing the misery of a dismal job market

I remember when getting together with family meant catching up on how far-flung relatives were doing, checking in on what kind of grades college-bound grandsons were getting and finding out just who was vacationing where this year.

Not anymore. Today, my relatives like to talk about the economy and, more specifically, the dismal job market out there.

This isn’t surprising. I traveled with my wife and two sons last weekend to Michigan for Easter. And if there’s one state that’s suffering in today’s economy, it’s Michigan.

My brother-in-law works for a school district. He’s worried about the cuts he’s seeing the district make. My sister-in-law works as a consultant for a big computer company. We all know that consultants are deemed as unneccessary expenses during the worst economies.

And then there’s me. I work in publishing. Magazines are closing all across the country. Newspapers are falling apart. It’s not the best time to be in my field, either.

Still, it was a nice weekend. And the conversation, though heavy on economic woes, did eventually stray to the more pleasant topics: Turns out my nephew is developing into quite a violin player. No that’s news I can use, especially in a grim job market.

More proof that the economy’s in the toilet: Selling hot dogs considered a viable career path

Do you like hot dogs? Are you out of work? Then you may be in luck.

A story in the Wall Street Journal says that a growing number of the unemployed are running their own hot dog carts to make up for their lost incomes.

The operator of a hot-dog-cart business says that sales of all his models are on the upswing. Hot dog carts retail for about $2,000 and up, according to the Wall Street Journal story. This businessman says he’s sold about 25 hot dog carts a week since January. That, he says, is about 15 more a week than usual.

Next time someone tells you that every business is struggling during this recession, point them to the hot-dog-cart industry. I can see it now: a thriving hot dog cart on every block.

I like hot dogs as much as the next guy — maybe even more than the next guy. But this story strikes me as particularly depressing. It’s bad enough that we’re relying on Walgreens now for more of our health-care needs. Now we have to trade in relish, ketchup and mustard to bring in extra income? As if U.S. residents aren’t fat enough already.

Laid off? Maybe it’s time to go back to school

In March alone, U.S. employers cut 663,000 jobs. That’s a lot of laid-off and fired workers.

And finding a new job? That’s a huge challenge today. The nation’s unemployment rate, after all, has shot up to a staggering 8.5 percent.

Maybe this is why many laid-off workers have decided to go back to school rather than test the job market. A story in the USA Today says that a growing number of unemployed workers are heading back to school to learn new careers.

Maybe this isn’t surprising. After all, Pres. Barack Obama’s federal stimulus bill includes $1.7 billion for adult employment servies. This includes training services.

The good news in the USA Today story, is that many colleges and community colleges are now tailoring many of their programs to attract adult students who’ve already held one career.

This is a new working world. Those people who want to navigate it successfully know that they must take sometimes dramatic steps, such as learning a whole new career.

What’s more important, job security or passion?

I found an interesting discussion on the Wall Street Journal’s Web site today. This question-and-answer session addressed whether, especially in these trying economic times, it’s better to pursue a career that offers job security even if the field isn’t one that you particularly enjoy.

It’s a good question. I suppose in a normal economy, we’d tell people to earn their living doing something that they feel passionate about, or that they at least find not too terminally dull.

But these aren’t normal times, are they?

Today, I’d be apt to tell someone to go for the job security. That especialy holds true if you have a family that’s depending on you to support them, or if you have housing payments to make.

Now, just because you’re working a job that you don’t feel passionate about doesn’t make you a failure. For one thing, you can pursue your passion when you’re not working. Secondly, a job doesn’t define who we are. Work is important, yes, but it’s not your whole life. It’s OK to do something solely to pay the bills.

Look at your parents. The odds are high that they worked a job for one reason: to pay the bills. They didn’t expect emotional satisfaction from their work.

In the best case, of course, a job would both pay the bills and fulfill us. In today’s economy, that’s not always possible.

A personal tale of giving up the perks

Last week, I wrote about all the perks office workers are willing to give up to hold onto their jobs. You can read the post here.

In the post, I worried that workers are giving up to much. I also worried that once the recession is over, employers — having grown used to not having to dole out raises or compensate their workers for extra jobs — will not pass those perks back out.

Well, turns out I have a confession to make. I’ve willingly given up a few perks, too.

Last year, I wrote all the stories for a newsletter that my publishing company was contracted to write for a large trade association. The work was tedious, and time-consuming, but my bosses did reward me by paying me a nice bonus to do the work.

Earlier this year, my bosses had to let about half of our department go. Everyone who survived, including myself, has been plenty spooked since. No one wants to lose a job in this dismal economy.

It recently came time to put the newsletter together again. Once again, I wrote stories, edited copy and dug up art. This time, though, there was no bonus. There just wasn’t room in the budget, my bosses explained.

Did I fight this? Did I argue? Did I tell them to find someone else to do the work? No way.

I gave up the perk. Not necessarily willingly, but because I know having a job is better than getting that bonus check.

Sure, I resent my bosses for giving me extra work without pay. And, yes, when the economy does turn around, maybe I will be motivated to look for a new employer.

But for now? I’m simply waving goodbye to that perk. It was nice while it lasted.

Are workers giving up on the perks?

If you’re fortunate enough to still have a job, you want to do everything in your power to hold onto it. I understand that.

But what are you willing to give up?

How about any hope of a raise? What about the chance to work from home one or more days a week? What about extra pay for taking on extra jobs or duties?

Turns out, a growing number of workers are willing to give up all of these perks to hold onto their jobs.

It’s unfortunate that people are willing to give up so much. But it’s certainly understandable. The nation’s unemployment rate has soared to 8.5 percent. And in many states, the jobless rate is even higher.

Still … I wonder about the long-term impact this willingness of workers to simply give up on their work-life benefits and perks. Once the recession ends — and it will, despite the steady stream of gloomy news and economic reports, end some day — I worry that employers, grown used to employees willing to do more for less, will forget that they once paid their workers to take on extra jobs, or rewarded them for working longer hours.

Have we workers created a new norm at our offices, a norm where we’re expected to work long hours and commit ourselves wholly to our jobs without expecting any perks from our employers?

Economy recovering? Tell that to the 600,000 who lost their jobs last month

More than 660,000 people lost their jobs in March, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. That brings the nation’s unemployment rate to 8.5 percent. It also means that more than 5.1 million people have lost their jobs since the nation’s recession began.

This dismal news comes as other economic indicators seem to be heading into more positive territory: New housing construction recently rose for the first time in months. The stock market has recently begun rising. February home sales came in fairly strong.

But yet, the nation’s employers can’t seem to shake their unfortunate habit of firing their workers.

I’m beginning to wonder if all the layoffs are necessary. I’m beginning to wonder if companies aren’t jumping on the bandwagon. After all, if you want to cut costs by trimming payroll, no one’s going to question you now; Everyone’s doing it.

I’ve harped on this point since I took over this blog last year: Employers don’t really care about their workers. (At least the vast majority of them don’t.) They may say they do. They may talk about their “work family.”

But you better believe: If they can save a buck or two by firing you, they won’t hesitate.

So, we’re relying on Walgreens now?

I’m waiting for the day when a Walgreens store opens up next to an existing Walgreens.

The shops already seem to dot every other block in my neighborhood.

Now, it appears that Walgreens may become an important player in the healthcare world. Scary thought.

According to this story by U.S. News & World Report, the Take Care clinics located in many of the country’s Walgreens will offer free healthcare services — for such ailments as skin conditions, respiratory problems and allergies — to people who are unemployed or uninsured. The offer of free care lasts throughout the year.

There is a catch, though: To be eligible, workers or their family members must have visited a Take Care clinic in the past. So head on over to your Walgreens, tell the doc there you’re coughing and buy a cough drop or something.

This is more than a bit depressing, though, isn’t it? We’re looking at Walgreens here as a savior of sorts in the healthcare world. Walgreens! The same place where you can buy chocolate licorice and Pete the Repeat Parrot.

That health-insurance reform can’t come soon enough.

Don’t get reorganized out of your job!

You may think you’re safe at your job. You’ve survived the layoffs, so far. You’re still getting a lot of work. You’re earning praise from your bosses.

But then you hear the news: Your department is going through a reorganization.

Oh, *&$#!

According to this story by the Wall Street Journal, reorganizations are extremely common during recessions. And often further layoffs accompany them.

Fortunately, the same Wall Street Journal story provides plenty of advice on how employees can survive a department reorganization.

The first tip, which I think is the best, is that employees should be bold. This means asking managers what the new department will look like once the reorganization is complete. It means clarifying your new role with your managers. Employees should also evaluate their own strengths. It’s important in a reorganization for employees to focus on what they can do to help the newly reorganized department. For instance, if you’ve led several successful projects in the past, be sure to remind — in a subtle way, of course — your new managers of this fact.

A reorganization can be scary, especially in today’s economy. But it doesn’t have to be disastrous.