Unemployment is hovering at about 10 percent — the highest in more than 26 years. That figure doesn’t include those involuntarily working part-time (one to 34 hours a week) or those who gave up looking for jobs for one reason or another and fell off the unemployment rolls.

As a result, a huge pool of talent is competing for a limited number of jobs — at a time when businesses remain cautious about hiring. In a Huntington Bancshares Inc. survey of 200 small business owners in the Midwest, for example, only about a fifth said they expected to fill positions in 2010. Sixteen percent said they didn’t expect to ever reach their pre-recession levels of staffing.

So even if you’d like the challenge of a new job, you may have to wait out this economic slump. How do you stay happy and motivated at work?

Work happiness is difficult to define. Performing at your best and being completely involved in your work will give you a sense of satisfaction. You’ll get good feedback from your manager or supervisor, and you won’t have to be preoccupied with the possibility of losing your job.

That job security is your motivation. The best way to attain job security is your performance. It is important for you to stay focused and give 125 percent at work.

You can improve your job security by getting as many cross-functional assignments as you can. If you have grown bored in your job, the new challenges can be stimulating.

But be careful how you approach your boss about these new responsibilities. How you make the request has everything to do with how your boss will respond. Don’t infer in any way that you’re unhappy.

Go to your boss and say, “Could you set aside maybe a half-hour of your time tomorrow so we can sit down and talk? Nothing to worry about — everything’s going great. I just have some ideas I want to run by you.”

When you’re in that quiet time together the next day, you say to your boss, “I know sales are down. I’ve always been treated very fairly here. I just have this need to help out and do whatever I can for this organization. I want to enhance my value to this organization. I noticed we had to lay off Frank and Jill. Is there some way I can pick up some of that slack? Can you think about additional things I can do for the good of the organization? I’m willing to do them, if they need to be done.”

The wrong way is to say: “Is there something else I can do? Is there another job you can give me?” The second approach is about you. Your boss will be more predisposed to letting you take on these new responsibilities if you want to do them to help the company.

Let’s say you’re doing the best job you can, taking on more assignments, but you’re still frustrated because you no longer like the work or your boss. Some people would be happier if they quit. But you’ve got financial responsibilities — say, a mortgage or your kids’ college educations. You’ve tested the job market and networked, but you haven’t found another suitable job. What then?

In this situation you subordinate your feelings for the good of the cause — namely, your mortgage or your kids — and wait it out until the job market improves. I know that’s easier said than done.

If you’re dissatisfied at work, it’s critical to improve your happiness in your off-work life. Spend more time with your family. Volunteer at a nonprofit or coach a sports team. These will keep you occupied so you don’t have to think about how bad things are at work.

And, depending on the volunteer activity, it might look good on a resume when the job market does improve.

Chuck Williams is dean of the College of Business at Butler University. Marvin Recht, an executive-in-residence at the COB, contributed to this article. For more information on the College and its “real life, real business” approach to business education, visit or e-mail Chuck at

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