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Job market exercise: Learn to bend

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By ROBERT TRIGAUX, Times Business Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published August 23, 2002

Looking hard and long for work? About to chuck one job in hopes of finding a better one?

Think Gumby. Be flexible.

Just listening to the job gurus is enough to pull you in every direction. Consider:

Since Sept. 11, the average time it takes a manager to find a job expanded to 3.5 months, matching the highest annual average in 17 years of tracking, says John Challenger, chief executive of the Challenger, Gray & Christmas outplacement firm. Before September, the average job search took just 2.5 months. That's a 40 percent increase in search time.

In a mid-July survey of 203 executives, an astonishing 67 percent said they have less confidence in the honesty and integrity of their management team than they did one year ago. "I think that with the stock market plunge, even executives are questioning everything and everyone around them," says CEO Jeffrey Christian, whose Christian & Timbers executive search firm conducted the survey.

Workers are growing more unhappy with their jobs in many parts of the country, including the Southeast and Florida, where job satisfaction dropped from 58 percent in 1995 to 49 percent (below the national average of 51 percent) in 2002. Nationwide, people ages 35 to 44 reported the largest decline in overall job satisfaction -- to 47.4 percent from 60.9 percent in '95. So says a Conference Board survey of 5,000 people conducted earlier this year and made public this week.

To say workers and want-to-be workers are whipsawed by these trends is an understatement. The Sept. 11 attacks made many folks glad to hold on to their jobs. The Enron-led wave of corporate scandal damaged company loyalty and made workers leery of their bosses.

Combined, that makes for a rough climate for finding work. Maybe all these surveys should ask: Take this job and (a) shove or (b) love it. In more prosperous economic times, answer (a) would have won hands down. Now (b) -- if not "love," then "try to like it" -- seems more the frontrunner.

Challenger's survey, based on responses from 3,000 discharged managers across the country, says that only 75 percent of job seekers who found work won equivalent or better pay in the second quarter of 2002. That's down from a pre-Sept. 11 level of 89 percent and the first time that this figure has dropped below 80 percent since Challenger began tracking such data in 1986.

That's not necessarily bad. Since Sept. 11, some workers are more willing to take jobs that pay less but supposedly offer more flexibility of time. The percentage of job-seekers switching industries in their new positions increased a dramatic 15 percentage points from 39 percent before Sept. 11 to 54 percent since the attacks.

And start-up businesses begun by jobless managers and executives have increased 43 percent, after several years of decline.

In the job market, all that makes for a whole lot of bending going on right now.

Short takes

GRADE INFLATION: Florida Progress, the former parent of Florida Power Corp., never ranked near the top in industry surveys of corporate reputation. But now that North Carolina's Progress Energy owns the Florida company, industry grades are up. A July survey of reputation in the electric power industry, conducted by Rating Research LLC, shows Progress Energy earned an A (tying with rival FPL Group in the Sunshine State). Only North Carolina's Duke Energy and Atlanta's Southern Co. ranked higher (AA.) In the overall survey of 21 power companies, six tied and 13 ranked below Progress Energy. Notably, on environmental issues, Progress Energy and FPL were among the very top-ranked by senior executives and financial analysts. . .

RETHINKING POWER PLANTS: Tampa's TECO Energy, zinged with a recent "sell" rating from an analyst, isn't the only power company to come under pressure for ambitious plans to build electric power plants out West. Duke Energy says it could kill construction on two partly completed power plants if weak energy prices persist. . .

NEW BANK TO THE JOCKS: No-nonsense SunTrust Banks never pitched itself as a big lender to the brassy sports world. But times are changing. After the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and its banking sponsor, First Union, parted company, SunTrust stepped in earlier this year. And this week, SunTrust Banks signed a four-year agreement as the official bank of the Atlanta Falcons. What's next -- pro wrestling or greyhound racing?

-- Robert Trigaux can be reached at or (727) 893-8405.

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