People@Work: After Mass Layoffs, Survivors Get Rising Workloads

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After the mass layoffs that took place amid the Great Recession, it's not surprising that those workers who remain report they're laboring harder than ever. But the number of employees enduring the stress of increased workloads is staggering. More than three-quarters of workers say they're responsible for more duties as a result of job cuts by their employers, and as many as 57% say their workloads have grown "a lot," a recent survey by Right Management found.

The firm, a unit of employment-services company Manpower (MAN), analyzed responses from more than 800 people across North America through an online poll conducted in partnership with social-networking website LinkedIn.

The survey found that employees at large companies feel the heat more, with 68% saying their workloads have increased "a lot" compared to only 33% at small organizations. Younger workers are experiencing greater workloads the most, with 60% of workers age 25-34 reporting their workloads have increased "a lot," followed by 59% of those 18-24. The burden also appears to affect women more than men, with only 14% of women reporting their workloads "were about the same" compared to 21% for their male counterparts.

It's Not Just a Perception

"Employees are likely feeling the pressure of more streamlined operations, increasing demands and tighter competition," said Deborah Schroeder-Saulnier, Right Management's senior vice president for global solutions, in a statement accompanying the survey's results. "Most employees, from all industries and company sizes, have been asked to step up and make a greater contribution."

It isn't merely perception, says business professor Donald Gibson, chairman of the management department at Fairfield University in Connecticut. "People really are working harder." According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, worker productivity rose 6.3% in the first quarter compared to the same period a year ago, the largest gain recorded since 1962.

Many employees have little other choice but to work harder, Gibson says. The nation's current high unemployment rate makes jumping ship for another position a more daunting task than in years past. "People feel like there aren't that many alternatives, or at least this is not a time to test the water," he says. "A lot of people do feel stuck."

"Tricky Period of Retaining Top Talent"

And that's where employers need to be careful not to take too much advantage of the situation. Corporations would do well to acknowledge workers' increased workloads and "instill a spirit of collaboration and opportunity during tough times," says Right Management's Schroeder-Saulnier. She suggests strategies that include building employees' skills and giving them more of a stake in decision-making.

Despite the weak job market, some workers, particularly within the financial sector, have been jumping ship. That's led to concern about brain drain at some of the nation's big banks and brokerage houses, says Paul Sorbera, president of Alliance Consulting, a New York-based executive search firm.

"It's been a really tricky period of retaining top talent," Sorbera says. The financial industry has had to develop new incentives to compensate for greater workloads that are the result not only of reductions in force but also increases in business activity as the economy has improved.

More Softer Incentives

One way Wall Street has responded is to raise workers' base salaries so that employees are less reliant on year-end bonuses, which in the past have frequently accounted for as much as 90% of annual compensation.

Moreover, rather than risk losing highly valued employees, banks are also offering softer incentives that include allowing employees to work from home or setting up satellite offices in the suburbs for groups of workers. That's a break from the past, Sorbera says, when Wall Street firms typically didn't offer such perks. Still, no matter whether they're at the main office or working from home, full-timers who've survived layoffs are working harder.
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