Work Shift: Tight Labor Market Leaves Employees Overworked


Overworked, underpaid

Tightness in the US labor market is usually a good thing for workers: It’s easier to find jobs and existing staff should have more bargaining power. But a Gallup report highlights the dark side: Employers look to their current employees to fill in where postings remain open.

Almost 60% percent of employees surveyed by Gallup say their organization has recently asked workers to take on additional responsibilities. That often means shouldering extra work without additional pay.

And that reality is set to become even more stark in 2024 as companies budget for smaller merit raises than in the past two years.

Especially in certain industries, like health care, labor shortages have become an increasingly hot-button issue for workers who say they’ve been overworked to the point of burnout. Staffing levels were one of the sticking points in a negotiation breakdown between unions and Kaiser Permanente that led to a three-day strike earlier this month.

Job openings remain well above pre-pandemic norms but many companies have been hesitant to hire ahead of a potential recession, which Bloomberg Economics still sees as likely.

Bosses, meanwhile, are focusing on maximizing existing employees’ productivity, as chief executive officers like Meta Platforms Inc.’s Mark Zuckerberg have vowed to make 2023 the “year of efficiency.”

But asking workers to take on more work without a raise comes with a cost. When employees say that their organization has asked them to take on additional responsibilities, they’re significantly more likely to look for another job and two and a half times more likely to feel burned out at work very often or always, according to Gallup.

The official end of the so-called Great Resignation — the quits rate has fallen back to its pre-pandemic level — may mean that employers become even more comfortable asking staff to pick up more work since they’re not as concerned about turnover, says Gallup senior workplace science editor Ryan Pendell.

But dropping a stack of new tasks on an employee’s desk isn’t the best strategy when roles go unfilled, he says. Gallup’s advice? Managers should be intentional about the kinds of tasks they allocate, not just the amount. That means, wherever possible, matching employees with work that might be a growth opportunity, or that they find more enjoyable or fulfilling. “Give workers work that feels meaningful, that feels like it's leading somewhere,” Pendell says.

That’s because burnout isn’t just about the amount of work you have but also how you feel about that work. Gallup’s research has found employees that who feel engaged with their work tend to put in more hours but also have less burnout, Pendell says. “So we know that how you feel about your job has a big factor on how much work you can do before you're kind of maxed out.”


“I call on my great UAW colleagues. We need to come together to bring an end to this acrimonious round of talks.”
Bill Ford
Executive Chair of Ford Motor Co.
Automaker calls on the United Auto Workers to end its more than month-long strike, warning that if the work stoppage continues it will hurt both local communities and the broader US economy.

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