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Jul 06

Superjobs or Super Stress?

LucyBusinesses and organizations, profit and nonprofit alike, are expecting a lot more out of their employees and their volunteers.  It seems that everyone nowadays has to clean the kitchen sink too, and if anyone complains about working hard, the person next to them on the commuter bus will probably have an even worse story to tell.

The Wall Street Journal calls this new multifunctional role, the “superjob.”

There are probably a couple of things we can thank for this.  One of course, is the unemployment crisis which is making all of us have to do more with less; or fewer.  It’s not uncommon to see employees taking on extra roles that are outside their areas of expertise– I’ve personally seen a construction manager taking on HR tasks, such as managing a Worker’s Comp case and redesigning the employee handbook.  Most employees don’t want the pink slip, so they’ll be reluctant to complain or push back even when things get overloaded.

But in spite of the current economic situation, some HR experts believe that this new multifunctional role will become permanent, as constant change and the need for competitive market differentiation continues to demand more flexibility from everyone.  Superjobs may just be the next step in the pursuit of workplace efficiencies and cost effectiveness. The Journal cites a recent survey by Spherion, where 53% of the workers surveyed said they have taken on new roles, most of them without extra pay.

And even though things do seem to be slowly picking up, many of our HR colleagues also say their organization is reluctant to hire, in case the economy does a quick reversal and starts to recede again.  There is also the fact that some organizations are liking the profit increases that have come from reducing their unit labor costs (which we know is only temporary, but that is another post).

There is only so much you can stretch a worker before they’ll snap.  I’m not talking going postal here, but going on a work vacation.  The Conference Board found that only 45% of U.S. workers are satisfied with their jobs; a record low.  The Gallup Organization found that employee engagement is in the tank as well.

While firms may get more with less in the short term, in the long run heavily multitasked, overstretched workers become confused, exhausted and just plain not productive.  So, here’s some ways HR can help employees cope with their “stretch” or superjob.

  • Keep daily work hours to 12 or less.  People who routinely work more than 13 hours a day often disrupt their sleep patterns, leading to mental and physical impairment.  Think of the stereotypical medical resident stumbling around after a 24 hour shift.  Not only is it not good for the employee’s health, it’s not good for the organization either.
  • Offer stress management support.  No matter what role you play, if you’re working a lot you’re going to need to blow off steam every now and then.  Establish a quiet room.  Offer stress management seminars.  Get some stress balls and toss them around the office.  Find ways for employees to bust a gut.  Laughter really is the best medicine.
  • Find low-cost ways to recognize a job well done.  Doing more with less takes a lot of creativity and effort.  We all know that sincere recognition can go a long way in making people feel better about a heavy workload.  Most people are more than willing to pitch in and do more if they feel their efforts are recognized and appreciated.
  • Make the extra work assignments a leadership development opportunity.  There is a ton of research out there supporting the concept that successful people learn from stretch assignments or experiences that allow them to grow their skill sets.  This is a big deal with the junior careerists who are looking for ways to take the next step. So instead of tossing any assignment to anyone, put some thought into it and make it a learning event.
  • Train supervisors in coaching.  Learning to be a good coach is really not that difficult, but actually doing it on a day-to-day basis is hard. Train and then support supervisors in being good coaches.  That’s really their job anyway in terms of motivating and assisting their team to higher levels of productivity.  Supervisors might also need some skill in time management and delegation so they can manage well without overloading employees.

Of course, I’m not trying to stress or overload you, my dear HR colleague.  Do what you think is doable and go for it!

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2 comments

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  1. Kathy McDonald, Get Clear, Get Going Coaching, Inc.

    This is a nice summary of what’s becoming the new norm in many companies. Thanks for the helpful suggestions of how to manage stressed out employees.

  2. Heather Vogel

    Thanks for your comments, Kathy. We appreciate your involvement and input!

  1. Super Stressed » HRstream.se

    […] Heather Vogel – the HR Whisperer – over on the HR Mouth of the South blog called “Superjobs or Super Stress.”  She cites an article from the Wall Street Journal about how with the continuing economic […]

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