Overworked, stressed? Why it will get worse this year

January 18, 2013 Barbara Moses, Ph.D

Globe & Mail

Barbara Moses, Ph.D, is an international speaker, work/life expert, and best-selling author of Dish: Midlife Women Tell the Truth About Work, Relationships, and the Rest of Life.

When my book Career Intelligence was published in 1997, the response could be summarized in part as, “C’mon – you can’t really be saying there is no more job security.” It has taken more than a decade for the realities of the “more, better, faster” mantra to sink into people’s consciousness.

Employees’ sentiments have morphed from dismay, to anger, and finally to resignation with a tinge of cynicism. When I gave speeches on this subject just five years ago, people would say, “I thought I was the only one feeling overwhelmed, and that there was something wrong with me.”

Workplace trends that emerged in the past decade have intensified, and their impact has become more extreme. This is what I expect to see more of in the year ahead:

Overly busy but under-challenged staff

“Mass production,” “monkey work,” “alienating,” “dehumanizing” – these are some of the complaints I hear when people describe their jobs.

Talented workers are getting antsy. Bored, and at the same time overworked, many are looking for new opportunities. Their attitude is, “My bonus was cut in half or disappeared and I am not learning anything new – I may as well go elsewhere.”

Another common complaint is “doing meaningless second-rate work at breakneck speed,” as one job seeker put it. Perhaps more than ever, people want to feel their work counts.

Less commitment to employee development

A recent North American survey of a variety of organizations conducted by Washington, D.C.-based CEB (formerly the Corporate Executive Board), found that 40 per cent of respondents plan to decrease their investment in employee learning and development this year, compared with 2012.

This doesn’t bode well for morale: Development is at the core of a company’s culture, and one of the best predictors of employee satisfaction. Leadership development in particular should be a priority. But according to clients of mine whose development budgets have been slashed, there is neither the resources nor the will to do it.

Tougher bosses at the helm

As companies cope with economic uncertainty new bosses are brought in from outside, or from different business areas, because of their operational know-how rather than understanding the function or the company.

“New bosses have always wanted to create their own team and shake things up a bit,” noted one vice-president of human resources. “But now, because of economic insecurities, their clean sweep is more extreme and associated with cutting all possible operating costs.”

Many of my clients comment on the aggressiveness with which these new bosses approach their role. While they recognize that new managers with fresh perspectives have advantages, they believe these bosses are destroying cultures they don’t understand. Recruiters report that the 90-day honeymoon period for new leaders has been replaced with an expectation for an immediate turnaround.

Unfortunately, long-service workers will continue to bear the brunt of this focus on transformation, being perceived as inflexible, uncreative, mired in bad habits, and frightened of change.

Bad behaviour by executives

“Organizations will continue to become leaner and meaner, with an emphasis on the meaner,” said Sussannah Kelly, executive vice-president of executive search firm DHR International in Toronto. “Programs which were built to benefit morale and culture are now being destroyed to save money, and the motivation for everything [is] now switching to profit only.”

Further erosion of work-life balance

A 2012 Canada-wide survey of 25,000 people found that work-life balance is becoming worse. Overworked employees will continue to pick up the load of colleagues who leave and aren’t replaced. Companies may talk a good line about promoting work-life balance, but in my experience there is typically an inverse correlation between the amount of internal propaganda about promoting balance and its actual existence. Expect the crunch to reach untenable levels.

Generational tensions

Older workers whose financial portfolios have not recovered from the recession will continue to avoid retirement, creating a bottleneck for generations below them. Young workers will increasingly despair of the difficulties of getting a “proper” full-time professional job, while thirty- and forty-somethings will resent opportunities being locked up by older staff.

But for some, some good news

If you work in a growth sector such as engineering, biotechnology, resources, or construction, you can expect an easier time. Employers will put out the welcome mat to woo and keep you, plying you with development opportunities and perks – so much so, you might think you are working in a different century, back when there were talent wars

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