By Larry Buhl, Monster Contributing Writer
During the Great Recession, more than half of all American workers became unemployed, took a pay cut, suffered a reduction in hours or had to take a temporary job because they couldn't find a full-time position, according to the Pew Research Center's Social and Demographic Trends Project.
You probably don't need a study to tell you the job market is still less than robust. In such an environment, you might assume that employers are taking advantage of employees -- by withholding raises and promotions, loading on extra work and even eliminating fringe benefits long after their balance sheets are healthy.
And in some cases, you'd be right.
"Now that corporations have learned they can do with fewer workers, many are using it to their advantage, whether it is essential to their survival or not -- and that trend could go on indefinitely," says Douglas McIntyre, editor of 24/7 Wall Street.
Mike Manoske, a business-development manager and recruiter for the staffing and consulting firm Yoh, says that up to a third of companies that are raking in gobs of money are not sharing it. He adds that such stingy behavior is usually not due to greed but rather to "nervous senior managers who are worried the economic recovery won't last."
"There are a lot of organizations who say, basically, 'You're lucky to have a job now, so here's more work,' but nobody in management is communicating why they need to take on more work," Manoske says.
If you suspect that your long days, flat paychecks and stingy perks are helping make someone at your company very rich, experts offer tips on assessing the situation.
Don't Believe Everything You Hear or Read
"The rumor mills are on hyperdrive now, and people hear and repeat only half the story, but they rarely validate it," Manoske says. "Most of the time, it's a lack of communication from the top and from managers that causes rumors and resentment to run wild."
Holly G. Green, CEO and managing director of The Human Factor, agrees that it's important to learn the full story. "The company could have gone into deep debt to keep the doors open but has now had one great quarter -- a long way from full recovery but starting to do well," she says. "There are times when externally facing statements don't really tell the whole story, so you have to be cautious about assuming too much from them."
When in Doubt, Ask HR
Manoske shares a story of a colleague who was given a raise in January that wouldn't take effect until June. It was a moot point, because the colleague was laid off in May. "What he should have done is reached out to someone in human resources in February and asked, 'Where are we?'"
That's not to say that HR will always share information, or that they even know. But it's still important to ask, Manoske says. "If HR doesn't know the answer, they will almost always ask upper management, and if upper management receives enough queries, they'll be forced to better communicate and explain the company's method of compensating employees."
Do Your Own Snooping
You need to do some sleuthing yourself, Manoske says. One great source is people who have recently left the company. "Even though someone who quit may have an axe to grind, they still can have some valuable information to share about what's going on in the company," he says. Manoske adds that it's up to you to determine what the truth is once you've consulted enough sources.
Ask, Don't Demand
If it looks as though your company is squeezing you unnecessarily, approach your supervisor to ask for more money, better hours, a lighter workload, a promotion or perks. But don't demand. "The way you ask is important," Green says. "Start the conversation with phrases like 'It seems as if the company has really turned around and is doing well, based on our most recent quarterly results. Can you help me understand how this will affect employees as we continue to do well?'"
John O'Connor, president of Career Pro, advises against letting emotion get the better of you when you're asking for what you think you're due. "Don't speak out in anger because it will never advance your career," he says.
Look for Greener Pastures
Some companies are hiring, and new hires don't always have to accept rock-bottom wages and meager perks. If you do some salary research and learn that the compensation structure in your company really is out of whack, you have options.
"Companies are asking for a lot right now, but if they don't live up to their promises and it's affecting your health and sanity and performance, be looking for a place that validates you," O'Connor says.
Make sure you land a place in one of these greener pastures before quitting, advises O'Connor. "You don't want to voluntarily unemploy yourself right now," he says. "You should make sure you have another offer waiting."
Green concludes: "In the end, you have to decide if it's worth the trade-off to stay with an employer you feel is taking advantage of you, versus moving on to a new one in tough times."