It's sweaty-palm season in the American work place.

Squeezed by tough times, more than two dozen major U.S. corporations this year are slashing payrolls by several hundred to a few thousand workers each.Reflecting this upheaval, the U.S. unemployment rate worsened for the third straight month in September, to 5.7 percent, the first time since the 1981-82 recession that the jobless rate rose three months in a row.

Behind these figures looms an emerging human toll that could have serious repercussions on American industry and the traditional bond between employer and employee.

As layoffs ripple through a range of businesses and geographic regions, the newly unemployed are growing angry and frustrated. People who still have jobs are worried about losing them.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that these layoffs - unlike the blue-collar upheavals of previous recessions - are hitting white-collar professionals and other groups that once thought themselves immune to corporate cost-cutting.

"All of a sudden there's a whole class of young professionals having their hopes dashed," said Ronald S. Ebert, a psychologist at the Levinson Institute in Belmont, Mass.

The list of giants announcing cuts in recent weeks read like a who's who of corporate America: Chase Manhattan Corp., Pan Am Corp., Digital Equipment Corp., Ford Motor Corp. and Saks Fifth Avenue among others.

The hardest hit regions so far have been the Northeast, particularly New England, the South Atlantic region and the Midwest.

One senior level executive, who requested anonymity, was earning "well in excess" of $200,000 annually at a major Midwestern packaged foods company when he learned he would be let go in September, part of company-wide layoffs of nearly 1,000 workers.

Morale in the ranks of many departments, including sales and marketing, suddenly plummeted, he recalled.