Personnel directors are among the first to notice. Punctuality goes up. Complaints go down. Productivity rises.

"You no longer hear, 'That's not in my job description,' " said Sally Pitofsky, president of the Washington Personnel Association, an organization of personnel directors.

In hard economic times, the long lines of unemployed crowding into employment bureaus and personnel offices produce some attitudinal changes in those who have jobs.

Uncertain about their own futures, they fear they may be next to go. While some resent the absence of promotions and the greater restrictions on job mobility, in general "people are much easier to satisfy," said Pitofsky, personnel director at the Urban Institute.

"The whole attitude to work has changed, and people are not as cavalier and they are not thinking so much in terms of 'What have you done for me lately?' They know the job market is flooded with people who could take their job," Pitofsky said.

"We noticed a couple of months ago that sick leave use for 1982 was way down . . . . We infer from that that people are afraid."

The Urban Institute is not alone. The Bureau of National Affairs, a private publishing company, reports that absenteeism nationwide was only 1.9 percent of scheduled work time in 1982, a "record-breaking low" since it began surveying in the mid 1970s.

"Before, people used to let it go in one ear and out other when they were chastised, but now they listen," said Montra Newton, personnel director at Unified Services, a janitorial firm. "They are much more concerned and they respond. People are staying at the job and doing a better job."

At Marriott Corp. headquarters in Bethesda, where the managerial staffs of its hotels and restaurants are hired, David Murphy sees "distinctly different attitudes" in job applicants.

"Three to four years ago, college graduates would come out of school and have five or six job offers," Murphy said. "They were somewhat overconfident at 22 years of age. Today they're scared to death; they're thinking, 'Will I ever get a job?' "

"We cut back on our Christmas expenses and parties last year and there was some flak from employes," Murphy said. "But the comment I heard from managers was, 'Sure, there were no cookies and punch this year, but thank God you've got a job.' That's the attitude that prevails in managers today."