Your friends keep saying you're one of the lucky ones. The economy has been imploding for months, each new wave of layoffs turning more of your colleagues into nervously grinning "freelance consultants," but you've managed to hold on to the most traditional of arrangements: a corporate job with a desk, a copy machine, medical benefits, and hours of unproductive banter around the coffeemaker. Why is it, then, that you feel as though you're trudging through each day in a vegetative trance? Because, as with many a survivor, the relentless cutbacks have taken a toll on your psyche. "People are in this comatose state," says Chip Conley, the founder and CEO of the Joie de Vivre boutique hotel company, who experienced a similar bout of inertia when the dot-com bubble burst in 2000. "Being on life support is an interesting way to look at it—has America become one big ICU?"
The signs of Career Coma bear a striking resemblance to the dejected demeanors of the poor chumps collecting unemployment checks. People start tallying up the weeks of severance they've accrued, dreamily trolling the "JobPounce" page on CareerTiger.com, and whispering to each other about who's getting the next ax. "It's like the brain goes into this fear state," says Judith Gerberg, a New York career counselor. "This little part of the brain actually shuts everything down. People tell me that they're just not as productive. They're spacing out at the window."
"Emotions are contagious in a workplace," Conley says. "Companies have become fear factories. As a result, people don't want to take risks. They don't want to rock the boat. You almost don't want to be noticed, because you sort of feel like you'll be singled out, so you just kind of sulk in the shadows."
Which is, clearly, a boneheaded course of action. Although it may not feel like we're floating in the fizz of a recovery, the turnaround will come one day soon, and when it does, it will boost your bargaining power—presuming you didn't waste the past two years stirring your coffee and curating your iTunes library. Adecco, an international human-resources company, recently released a poll revealing that 54 percent of American workers intend to start truffle-sniffing for a new job as soon as the recession is over. (For employees between 18 and 29, the number was even higher—71 percent.) According to a report released by the business-consulting firm Deloitte in July, bosses are already bracing for this "résumé tsunami." If you've been shouldering the workload of two or three people (like most survivors) and you decide to stay put, you'll be in the perfect position to step into a promotion. There might even be perks—remember those? "Surveyed talent managers and executives are most concerned about losing younger employees from both Generation Y (under age 30) and Generation X (ages 30–44)," the Deloitte report says. "To retain these future leaders, many are considering a mix of retention initiatives, including greater financial incentives and flexible work arrangements." In plain English, that means more money and more time.