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Summary:

After years of economic hardship and unsettling changes to how we work, how are Americans coping? Two new surveys suggest that while Americans may be far less optimistic than they were in cheerier historical periods, they are starting to come to terms with the changes.

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There may be a vague optimistic glow on the horizon, but it’s hardly like sunny boom times have returned to America. So after so many years of economic hardship, and so many unsettling changes to how we work and what sort of jobs are available, how are Americans coping? Has the recession, along with the shift toward more unstable career trajectories and more independent work beaten down morale and raised stress levels?

According to two new surveys, not quite. Americans may be far less optimistic than they were in other, cheerier historical periods, but this recent evidence suggests they are starting to cope with the challenges.

Adecco recently polled 1,014 Americans for its annual Workplace Insights survey, asking them for their outlook on everything from their jobs to the coming presidential election. The results show a shift in U.S. workers’ views on career instability in general and temporary and contract work in particular. Adecco reports:

  • Temporary jobs are more favorably viewed today than in the past. Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of Americans say they view temporary jobs more positively than they did last year. That might be a result of a huge majority (86 percent) of Americans believing a temporary job is a good career option for people looking to gain valuable work experience.
  • Americans are also more likely to work in different fields than they were in 2011. Sixty-eight percent of Americans would be more willing to take a job in a field outside of their degree or study today than they would have been last year.
  • Women may be more flexible when it comes to finding a job than men. Seventy-two percent of women would be more willing today to take a job outside of their field of study compared to 64 percent of men.

Of course, these results are hardly proof of some definitive move towards contentment with gig-based careers. As Consumerist points out, it’s not that respondents are happy with a future of piecemeal work; it’s that they’re hoping (perhaps out of desperation) these sorts of jobs will  lead to an old-style full-time position:

Americans are growing more amenable to taking temporary employment, changing their viewpoint from the glass-half-empty opinion of ‘it’s a job without permanence’ to ‘it’s a job that may lead to something permanent one day.’

But even if workers aren’t thrilled with bouncing between jobs, there’s other evidence they’re starting to come to terms with a less stable future of work. The American Psychological Association regularly asks Americans if they’re feeling stressed, and perhaps surprisingly given the lack of cheerful news, they’re increasingly answering no. The Financial Times reports:

Although 22 per cent of Americans described themselves as “very stressed”, this figure was slightly down on the previous year, when it was 24 per cent – and well below 2007, when it was 32 per cent. Indeed, the measured levels of stress have been dropping steadily over the past five years since the APA started its survey. In 2007, for example, the mean stress level was 6.2 per cent, whereas this year it was “only” 5.2 per cent.

“After five long years of financial turmoil, Americans might – just possibly – be getting used to shocks,” speculates the paper, continuing, “five years of watching ‘black swan’ type events, bad government policies and bizarre economic twists might have made shocks less unsettling. People are slowly adapting to a more unstable world.”

While these are only crumbs of data that certainly do not prove Americans have completely and happily adjusted to new career and economic realities, they do suggest we can’t and won’t look backward forever. Among the understandable fear of change and pining for more stable times, it’s easy to imagine we’ll never get our heads around new realities. These studies at least suggest it’s possible.

Do you think Americans are starting to give up the dream of returning to older realities and starting to figure out how to deal with the future of work?

Image courtesy of Flickr user Juan M. Gatica.

  1. Notesfromthefarm Tuesday, January 31, 2012

    This title suggests that we “need to strive” toward adjusting to instability. Since when is striving toward the adjustment to instability the direction of choice? We, as a human race, need to strive toward stability and not accept chaos. The more the bar is slowly pushed toward instability in our society, yes, human kind, by nature will adjust, but for what purpose? Just take another tranquilizer, take another sleeping pill, take your SOMA. Don’t think about the chaotic world around you, just take your pill and all be right.

    Mankind, the human race should be up in arms about the chaotic level we are expected to exist in today. Notice I said “exist”, not “live.”
    Notesfromthefarm

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    1. Perhaps it’s more of a matter of balancing prosperity/innovation/openness/information against stability and lower stress levels. I think there’s an inherent tension between dynamism and safety. As ever, you can’t have it all.

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  2. Thanks for sharing this factual information Jessica. This really drives awareness to what direction the economy is heading for the coming years. However, it’s just a matter making the right choices, perseverance and a lot of optimism to cope with this instability. If all of us take action to how our lives cope with life-changing adjustments, I believed we’ll just be fine.

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