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The ax is swinging at many companies, bombs are falling in foreign lands, anthrax is in the headlines -- and local workers are thinking differently about their jobs.

Work that may have been dreaded last month is now cherished.

The urge to get out and find something new suddenly isn't so strong.

People are hunkering down.

"From the standpoint of the candidates in the marketplace, there is a fear factor. Some people are saying, 'This job is the only security that I've got.' Some people who might have been considering leaving their jobs are hanging in there," said Jon Helmin, a recruiter with Hunter Search & Placement in Buffalo.

People are reluctant to switch companies, he said, fearing the old adage "last hired, first fired."

Responses to employment advertisements run by Helmin's firm have dropped, forcing him to do more direct one-on-one recruiting recently to find qualified applicants for some positions.

Though a drop in turnover is typical when unemployment is rising, things are a little different this time.

Many workers are not simply staying put, they are re-examining priorities.

Sharon Randaccio, who operates a career counseling and executive search firm in Williamsville, sees a jump in the number of managers looking to leave the corporate world for nonprofit work. She has about 100 applicants interested in four current management openings at local nonprofit organizations.

"I think people in their midcareers, who are making significant money, are realizing there is more to life," said Randaccio, president of Performance Management Partners.

Some companies are preparing for a shift in employee priorities. Employees who previously viewed climbing the corporate ladder as appealing, regardless of how many hours they had to put in, may now place a greater emphasis on balancing work and family life, according to members of the local Society for Human Resource Management chapter.

"Seeing the number of families impacted by this tragedy makes you realize every day is precious and you can't sweat the small stuff. . . . I think balancing work and family life is going to become even more important in recruiting and retaining employees," said Dawn M. McDonald, a human resources manager for the French manufacturer Saint-Gobain, which has a facility in Amherst.

The soul-searching occurring in the workplace could actually benefit communities with a large number of expatriates, such as Buffalo, according to John Challenger, a partner in the Chicago-based national outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.

"You may see some more people decide that 'Buffalo is where I grew up, it's where my family is, and it's where I want to spend the next 20 years of my life, instead of in this rat race,' " said Challenger.

The problem right now is finding work in Buffalo. The local job market, already slowing because of the economic downturn, tightened more after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack, said Jim Cipriani Jr., president of Systems Personnel Group in West Seneca.

Cipriani's company does contract computer work and also helps place information technology professionals. Contract business is way up, as more companies outsource functions to cut jobs, Cipriani said.

"Our contract business is up about 30 percent this year. Most information technology managers still have projects to complete, even though their corporate office may not be approving any new hires," Cipriani said.

But corporate staffing is down because so many companies are either downsizing or have hiring freezes, he said.

Because there are so many laid-off workers in the job market, and fewer jobs to fill, salaries in the local technology sector are dropping, Cipriani said. Many laid-off workers are having to accept jobs at lower salary levels, he said.

The continuing parade of layoffs, both locally and nationally, along with the uncertainty created by the international war on terrorism, have made some people happy just to have work.

"I think the people who made it through the work-force reductions are grateful to be employed and look at their job differently, not knowing what the future will bring," said a human resources employee at an area company that has slashed 10 percent of its staff. "My entire attitude has changed both professionally and personally. I am grateful for the things that I have, and I have a totally different view on life."

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