The CEO of a Manhattan-based company, who happens to stock his office with a keg at all times, recently told me that in a depressed economy, there's an inverse relationship between productivity and the amount of beer that employees drink. I have a hunch that this inverse relationship always exists, but he made a point of saying that over the past year, his keg orders have been very low. It's no surprise that since the recession hit, employees have been keeping their heads bowed over their desks, diligently completing tasks, trying not to make waves. These are all natural, protective reactions when you're surrounded by layoffs left and right. "Be thankful for your job, and hold on to it at all costs," is a common recession sentiment.
But now that the economy is starting to improve and new positions are opening up, you would expect to see some of that intensity die down a bit. However, a recent survey from WFD Consulting, a work-life and talent management consulting shows that the opposite is actually the case. The firm's second annual Workload in America survey found that even as the economy continues to rebound, workloads for employees of all levels have continued to increase—as has workplace stress.
Nine out of 10 survey respondents said their workload has increased over the last year; 80% say stress has increased and morale has decreased; and half report that motivation, energy and endurance continue to slip. Much of this can be attributed to the fact that employees have had to ramp up their work to compensate for reduced staff numbers. 74% of respondents report an increase in expectations for speed of execution, while 60% say that the demands of managing globally have increased. And, likely because the remaining employees were fearful of losing their jobs, the numbers show that employee productivity and innovation have improved over the same time period. Just 35% of respondents feel that workloads at their companies are reasonable. Respondents came from a variety of industries, including financial services, pharmaceuticals, professional services, technology, higher education and government.
Diane Burrus, a senior consultant at WFD Consulting points out that "most organizations are taking action to address workload issues or eliminate low-value work. They're doing this through business reorganization, work redesign efforts, greater focus on key priorities, and better planning and communication within and across functions." Many workplaces are also implementing practices—such as flexible work options, vacation time, administrative tools and stress-management workshops—to help employees manage stress and increased workload demands.
If those improvement measures make an impact, expect the corporate keg-o-meter to start registering more normal consumption rates—a true barometer of economic recovery.
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