The workforce is not a happy place these days. According to a recent survey from Mercer Human Resource Consulting, half of today’s employees are miserable in their jobs and one third would like to quit. A study from the Society for Human Resource Management said that more than three-quarters of the companies polled had cut benefits. All this at a time when raises — if there are any — aren’t keeping pace with inflation.

That’s the news from a July 8 Philadelphia Inquirer article on the recent surveys. Disgruntled workers, of course, should think twice before trying to find a new job: The unemployment rate was at 9.2% in June, the highest this year. As Peter Cappelli, head of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources notes, “In general, recovery for businesses in terms of profit and recovery for workers in terms of jobs and wages don’t always coincide. Companies have been doing well in terms of profits by keeping costs down, even though the economy isn’t growing. Employees, on the other hand, only do well when the economy grows. And it’s still not growing.”

According to the Inquirer article, the unhappiest workers are those between the ages of 16 and 24 (44%), followed by those ages 25 to 34 (40%).

The Society for Human Resource Management survey also noted that the biggest cuts in perks for employees have been in paying for educational courses or degrees, life insurance for dependents, and incentive bonuses, according to the Inquirer article. “Employers also have significantly cut housing and relocation expenses, company sports teams, and paying for job-related travel.”

Yet according to a recent Knowledge at Wharton article on the state of perks these days, companies don’t always have to spend a lot of money trying to keep employees happy and productive. Indeed, perks are especially valuable when they “give employees the chance to customize their own employment arrangement,” Wharton management professor Adam Grant noted in the article. “Perks can help employees feel uniquely supported and valued by their employers. Think about an employment contract as a restaurant menu: An employer offers an employee a set of options he or she can choose from that are of similar cost to the employer…. We will probably be seeing a more concerted effort at this kind of mass customization in the future.” Examples of options that give employees more autonomy over how their jobs are structured include the opportunity to telecommute one day a week or to negotiate degrees of scheduling flexibility.

Indeed, added Bill Driscoll,northeastern district president for staffing firm Robert Half International, working at home — provided companies set productivity standards — and mentoring are two cost-free perks that can be offered to employees who “share the company’s values and strategy.” He advises companies to avoid cutting perks in a recession “because perks are a way to retain their existing talent. Companies can offer subsidized training and education, mentoring or a flexible schedule, and can do that without having to offer more financial compensation, and in some cases, can offer less.”

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