Increases in management practices such as outsourcing, hiring temporary workers and focusing on project-based teams is having an adverse effect on workers. They may also result in long-term problems for lab managers and other employers.

Employee job satisfaction affects employee loyalty, efficiency in the workplace and quality of life. "We spend a great deal of our time at work, so it is an important part of our lives," says Dr. Martha Crowley, an assistant professor of sociology at North Carolina State University who has done research on the subject. "If our work experience is unpleasant, it affects every aspect of our lives and ultimately it affects our ability to do our jobs."

The research study

While the study wasn't focused on laboratory managers or their staff members, it did focus on professional employees. The researchers examined data on working conditions, workplace relationships and worker behavior of professional employees over the past 80 years. They found that, over this period, employers increasingly implemented measures designed to increase profits. These include layoffs, outsourcing jobs, and replacing salaried employees with contractors. All of these measures have been widely implemented in laboratories in many industries over the past three years as responses to the recent recession. In addition, large-scale mergers in the pharmaceutical industry have resulted in these measures plus dissolution of entire research groups and even closure of large research centers.

"We found that, while these measures have succeeded in increasing performance pressure, there have also been unintended consequences," Crowley says. Many of these unintended consequences have an immediate impact on employees. For example, professional workers increasingly work longer hours to meet project timetables. If they are salaried employees, there is no compensation for the increased time they spend on the job. Indeed there may be less as some employers freeze or even cut salaries.

Effects on employee workplace behavior

As a result, many employees experience increased workplace stress. There is an increase in fear among employees that their job will disappear and a distrust of management. Greater stress can result in increased interpersonal conflict. Employees increasingly focus on their own individual situations rather than on that of their employer except as it affects them personally. The researchers found that professionals are less likely to help coworkers than in the past and to work together effectively.

All these factors reduce workplace efficiency. The quality of the work product also declines as workers settle for "good enough."

As a result of these business practices and their consequences, people tend to withdraw loyalty from their employers. This could have long-term effects. When the economy becomes more vigorous and grows more rapidly, companies will eventually begin to increase their hiring of scientists, engineers and technicians to work in their laboratories. With an improved laboratory job market, decreased loyalty among current staff members could result in increased current employee turnover. While employers may offer incentives to stay on the job, the memory of the previous months or years of stressful laboratory workplace conditions may result in these offers being ineffective.

These stressful work conditions caused by changed workplace practices also may reduce employees' commitment to their employers' goals. "People are still doing their jobs and many are putting in a lot of hours," Crowley says, "but they are not doing the things they would do if they were passionate about their work." This behavior can persist despite a strong economic recovery.

Crowley concludes that employers should not rely on these workplace practices suggesting, "Treating your employees well can be a way to boost your profits and productivity simultaneously without generating the unintended consequences of tactics based on fear."