While politicians and pundits fret about unemployment and underemployment rates, many workers have the opposite problem. They are overemployed, working as many as two jobs for the price of one. It is the quiet flip side of the jobless recovery. Call it the “job more” economy. And the situation threatens not just the sanity of employees but the long-term success of companies and the country.
The unemployment numbers tell one story of the recession’s impact on the workplace, but another can be found among the 25 percent who work 41 hours or more a week, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Companies are giving employees more duties to fill the void created by laid-off colleagues, hiring freezes and new business growth. Those workers may feel lucky to have a job. And additional tasks can serve as invigorating “stretch” assignments. But there’s a tipping point. And the data indicate many firms are going too far with their demands.
In a July survey of 600 American workers we conducted with Workplace Options, a provider of employee assistance program services, 55 percent of respondents said their job responsibilities had increased as a result of the troubled economy. More than a quarter of workers (27 percent) said their duties had doubled. Among all those with extra work tasks, 23 percent said the change had improved their well-being. But 51 percent said the extra work has had a negative effect on their well-being.
Meanwhile, job satisfaction has hit a record low, and 69 percent of North American workers are either “disengaged” or “underengaged,” according to consulting firm LeadershipIQ. The stories of stressed-out workers can be as harrowing as those of hopeless job seekers. Accounts of homelessness, substance abuse, family violence and depression are on the rise, according to employee assistance providers who handle hot line calls.
While employee morale is in the pits, corporate profits are up. This boon is made possible, in part, by doing more with fewer workers. Always-on “superjobs” may be turning into the norm. But is it a case of penny-wise, pound-foolish on payrolls? There’s a breaking point where the performance of overburdened employees deteriorates. Employer reputations are eroding just as the importance of a good name is growing in the competition for talent, customers and investors. And the extra work, combined with paltry raises for most workers and fat paychecks for execs, is exacerbating social tensions that could threaten the business climate employers take for granted.
My colleague Rita Pyrillis and I will explore these issues in a package of stories to be published several weeks from now. And we invite you to help us. We are seeking anecdotes about how workloads have changed in different companies, and what effects the changes are having on employees and organizations. Tell us your story. Leave a comment below or contact me directly. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling (415) 538-0212. I look forward to hearing your take on the “job more” economy.