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High-Energy Workers Are Doing It All, But at What Price?

JOB-SEEKERS reading the help-wanted ads in last Sunday's Boston Globe couldn't miss an unusual full-page ad placed by a large investment firm. A colorful drawing shows a businessman, briefcase in hand, sprinting into the workday just as the sun peeks over the horizon. As if to emphasize his energy, a headline asks, ''Are you relentlessly indefatigable?''

Indefatigable people, the text explains, ''seem to be continually re-energized by their accomplishments and by every new challenge that comes their way.'' The company wants ''tireless people driven by a need to exceed.''

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Elsewhere in the classifieds the same day, a smaller ad for the same firm poses a related question: ''Are you fortuitously flexible?'' Translation: Are you willing to be one of the temporary workers who increasingly form the backbone of the new work force? The text adds, ''Can you slip into a challenging role in a moment's notice?'' What it conveniently avoids asking is: Can you also forgo benefits and job security?

Relentlessly indefatigable. Fortuitously flexible. Those two labels neatly sum up the qualifications workers need in the '90s. Although downsizing has slowed, the less-is-more philosophy still prevails in many businesses. The dress code may be casual, but the work code is definitely starchy: Perform tirelessly - or else.

If the vitality of a nation's economy can be measured in part by the volume of classified advertising, the outlook is promising. The Globe alone carried a hefty 52 pages of help-wanted ads last Sunday. Yet read the fine print and employers' expectations become clear. The operative word is energy: ''Seeking energetic and innovative engineer.'' ''This position requires a high-energy individual.'' ''The qualified candidate must possess a high energy level.'' ''The ideal candidate will be a high-energy team player.''

Beyond the classifieds, real-life evidence of this demand is everywhere: One friend who works at an educational institution finds her days in the office stretching to 10 and 11 hours. She says, ''I used to love my job. Now half the department is made up of temps, and they're all trying hard to turn this into something permanent. I feel I have to work longer just to keep my job.'' Another woman whose son has survived many rounds of layoffs at a large computer company frets about the 70-hour weeks he now frequently works. ''He has almost no time for his wife and children,'' she says.

This month the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Mass., will host a noontime seminar for parents on ''Working Longer Hours.'' Billed as a ''brainstorming session,'' it promises to ''generate ideas for handling longer hours at the workplace while meeting the needs of children at home.''

Even a magazine called Life After College, published by Cosmopolitan, suggests that recent graduates emphasize workaholic tendencies on resumes. Under the heading ''Experience,'' the article advises, resume writers should include such phrases as ''worked very hard'' and ''worked long hours.''

Yet it's hard to remain ''continually re-energized,'' as the ad demands, when the alarm goes off earlier and bedtime comes later, year after year. Alice Freedman, manager of education and training at Work/Family Directions in Boston, says, ''One of the fallouts of all that's been happening is that people are very tired and worried and have less energy for their personal and home-life needs - and even for the job. If you work intensely, it's hard to keep that energy level up long-term. We can do it in short spurts, but things and people get short-changed, especially at home.''

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The stern new realities of business dictate that companies must operate more efficiently. Fair enough. But as profits rise, and with them salaries and bonuses for those at the top, trickle-down economics has a role to play. Balancing the books of corporate America on the backs of ''relentlessly indefatigable'' and ''fortuitously flexible'' workers hardly constitutes trickle-down.

The less-is-more philosophy still prevails in many businesses. The dress code may be casual, but the work code is definitely starchy: Perform tirelessly - or else.

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