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Personal Finance: Dwindling perks, less perkiness

They are the walking wounded - the people who still have jobs but are growing weary after all the cuts and pressures at work as companies continue trying to do more with less.

They are the walking wounded - the people who still have jobs but are growing weary after all the cuts and pressures at work as companies continue trying to do more with less.

On average, pay is not keeping up with inflation, and benefits are being cut, too. About 77 percent of human-resources professionals who responded to a survey in February said their companies had cut benefits because of continued economic weakness, according to the Society for Human Resource Management. Government figures showed that income increased just 0.3 percent in May, which is actually a pay cut when inflation is figured into the cost of living.

Another survey showed millions of Americans going through the motions at work and losing heart in their jobs. That survey, by consulting firm Mercer, found that half of this nation's workforce is unhappy. A third of employees are so miserable they are seriously considering leaving their jobs.

Of course, leaving isn't easy now. The unemployment rate for June was 9.2 percent, with 14.1 million out of work. Millions more are underemployed in part-time jobs or other employment that lags what they need or had before the recession.

But despite the lack of mobility now, Mercer senior partner Mindy Fox warns that there are "business consequences for this erosion in employee sentiment" on the job.

"Diminished loyalty and widespread apathy can undermine business performance, particularly as companies increasingly look to their workforces to drive productivity gains and spur innovation," she said.

Most disgruntled are young workers, with 44 percent of those ages 16 to 24 and 40 percent of the 25- to 34-year-olds saying they "seriously are considering leaving."

Mercer says employees feel they have had to deal with a "series of takeaways."

About 43 percent are aware that they aren't saving enough for retirement, and only 41 percent think their employers are doing enough to help them build up the nest eggs they will need. About 59 percent are satisfied with their health-care benefits, compared with 66 percent before the recession, when Mercer surveyed people in 2005.

Just over half, 53 percent, are satisfied with their pay. But pay isn't the only issue. The majority say promotions aren't going to the most qualified people.

Most workers remain loyal to their jobs. Seventy-two percent in the human-resources survey said they were willing to go beyond job requirements to help their organization succeed.

Yet they are clearly aware employers have whittled at benefits.

The human-resources survey shows about 94 percent of employers still providing dental coverage and 76 percent vision coverage. But fewer say they are offering contraceptive coverage, HMOs, long-term care insurance, and retiree health care than in 2007. Further, a recent study by the Employee Benefit Research Institute showed the largest cuts in health insurance affect people earning below $40,000, and the Kaiser Family Foundation concluded workers had to pay 30 percent of costs for family health-insurance coverage in 2010, compared with 27 percent in 2009.

The most significant reductions over the last five years have been in paying for educational courses or degrees, life insurance for dependents, and incentive bonuses. Employers have also significantly cut housing and relocation expenses, company sports teams, and paying for job-related travel.

In their move to deal with the cruel forces of the economy, however, many employers seem to be missing ways they could improve morale inexpensively.

Joseph Coombs, an analyst for the Society for Human Resource Management, said companies that want to attract and retain qualified people could offer career-advancing work, flexible scheduling, and telecommuting.

"These are still remarkably rare," he said, and yet they are "not expensive, improve productivity, and are powerfully attractive to many candidates."