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Luke Landes
Consumerism Commentary
Consumerism Commentary

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During the recession, my employer, a firm in the financial industry, eliminated raises for employees at the Vice President level and above for one year. The company, that continued to perform well compared to its peers, cut back bonuses and other benefits. It’s easy for employers to demand higher productivity for less compensation when the job market is stagnant and the economy is threatened.

“You’re lucky to have a job” was the prevailing attitude. Many of my co-workers had family members or knew people who were out of work during the recession, and there was a lingering fear that, particularly after some internal consolidation, any of us could be out of our jobs at any time. Some were holding onto their jobs for dear life.

The power balance between employer and employee is always tilted in companies’ favor, but never more than during a period when the economy is falling apart. Unemployment may be at 8.5%, lower than during the height of the recession, but this is still high, and employees are still willing to put up with cutbacks just to keep their jobs.

What appears to be a short-term gain for an employer — reducing expenses in human resources, salaries, and benefits — can be a long-term loss. The recession ushered in a period of New Frugality. Consumers used credit cards less often and companies cut back spending and hoarded cash. The corporate balance sheet was important, and companies appeared stronger by reducing expenses to ensure profits for shareholders. Employees suffered as a result, and the stagnant — or in some cases, decreasing — compensation will not easily be forgotten.

Eventually, the job market will swing in the other direction. The top talent will feel no loyalty to the company that didn’t respect its workers during the recession, and they will leave for greener pastures.

The Wharton School highlights several recent surveys, showing that the short-term gains companies achieve by neglecting the benefits of their employees will likely result in long-term difficulties.

36% of workers want to leave their companies.
43% of human resources managers are concerned top employees will leave.
35% of companies in the United States have smaller staffs than before the recession.
Companies have replaced full-time staff with temporary workers.
Companies cut compensation more for lower-level employees than higher-level, because executives view the average working middle class employee as easier to replace.

A company’s employees, literally its “human resources,” are the most important assets that a company can invest in. Proper handling and training will present a great return on investment. Spending money to support and enhance the lives of and benefits for employees keeps them engaged. If an employee believes he or she was treated well and respected during a time of economic upheaval, when employees at other companies are sharing their stories of frustration, the employee is more likely to appreciate the employer.

How has your employer treated you over the past few years? Have your compensation and benefits been scaled back? Will you stay when you know it will be easier to find a job?

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What do you think? I'm going to develop some sort of calculation that helps people understand where they are.
Over the past few weeks, I've been working on a series about increasing your "human capital." I think looking at this is just as important as looking at your "financial capital." But it's tough to measure. There are certainly things you can do to increase your capital, but how do you immediately quantify the value of your skills and experiences?

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It's true! Consumerism Commentary now has a Google+ page. Now to go figure out Google+ pages.

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We've grown accustomed to free checking, free ATM access, and free FDIC insurance, but for banks, these services are major expenses. Recently, banks have paid for these services from revenue generated elsewhere...

If customers migrate to credit unions, online banks, and community banks, the unprofitability will shift from larger institutions, which may have a better chance of handling these customers, to new entities who will then need to deal with providing services to more customers without increased revenue. These smaller banks and credit unions may, in turn, increase fees to afford these customers...

Take a look at the full article on US News...

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Thanks to US News for the mention! And thanks +Tom Dziubek and +Bryan J Busch for being such great hosts!

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The "Debt Snowball" plan has helped lots of people get out of debt... some, for good. Here's a run-down of the plan. Has the Debt Snowball helped you?

I actually prefer a different method, but I tried to focus on just the Debt Snowball method here. The bottom line is that any plan can help you stay on track and keeping true to the goal of being debt-free is more important than small differences in prioritization.

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For my personal finance bloggers -- the Second Annual Plutus Awards officially started today. The winners of these awards -- like the Oscars for personal finance blogs -- will be announced at the Financial Blogger Conference in October, but we're getting things started now by taking suggestions for award categories.

The attached link will allow you to select this year's categories.

We will start with most of last year's categories, but some may be eliminated and others may be added after receiving feedback from the community. We will accept these suggestions until August 8, at which point we will finalize the categories.

From August 15 through August 28, nominations will be open. Any blogger or audience member will be able to nominate products, services, and blogs for both categories of Plutus Awards. The finalists will be chosen by a panel from among the top nominations in each category.

On August 31, the finalists will be announced, and voting will be open from September 1 through September 21. This year, to prevent ballot stuffing by employees of companies, voting for the first section of Plutus Awards, the best products and services as judged by the blogging community, will be open only to confirmed independent bloggers. This will help the awards for products and services better reflect the opinion of the community of independent financial bloggers rather than the employees of companies that offer those products and services.

The voting for the Plutus 2.0 Awards, the portion of the awards that includes the best blogs in a variety of categories, will be open to all -- bloggers as well as their audiences.

The winners of the Plutus Awards will be announced live at the Financial Blogger Conference in Chicago in early October. Authors representing winning blogs will receive a small prize package, though they are not required to attend the conference in order to win an award or to receive a prize.

Would you open a savings account at a bank if that bank were owned by a company in bankruptcy and were on the auction block?

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I receive a good number of inquiries about contributing to Consumerism Commentary in the form of a guest post. If you're interested, take a look at this article. In short, if you're looking for free advertising, don't even bother. Come to me with a good idea (or a few ideas) -- something you wouldn't see on one of those content-churning websites. There's more to it... check it out...
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