A New Year Tribute to Hard Workers

Dr. Jenny Gale
Senior Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Organizational Behaviour

Balancing work and family life can be hard.  In the run up to Christmas this is more pronounced. However, there is also the general concern that the workplace is becoming an increasingly pressurised environment as organisations struggle to remain competitive in uncertain economic and political conditions, including the uncertainties of Brexit.  The beginning of the New Year offers an opportunity to reflect on the cost of the increasing intensification of work, in other words having too much to do, in too little time, and sometimes with fewer staff and other resources.

Hard work is nothing new of course, and jobs today are cleaner and safer, while technological advances and the digital age have removed some of the arduous aspects of work.  However, employers also demand higher levels of commitment and loyalty from employees, even to the extent that they identify emotionally with business needs, embodying the organisational brand.  This too contributes to work intensification as it requires employees to give more of themselves, often going ‘the extra mile’.  Coupled with the pressure on organisations to continually ‘do more with less’, it is feasible to expect rising workloads and work pressure.  Left unchecked, these can contribute to human resource management issues such as sickness absence and/or ‘presenteeism’.  Presenteeism is the term used for when employees present for work, despite not being well enough, or when the workplace culture suggests that non-attendance, even when ill, may have negative implications for one’s career or job security.  Under such regimes, employees may contribute to their own work intensification as they seek to demonstrate commitment while also worrying about burdening colleagues with additional work.  However, ‘doing more with less’, while reflecting the harsh economic realities confronting private and public sector organisations, is not only bad for employees, it is not good for business or for service delivery.There is only so much that employees can do.  We are not machines, neither are we simply ‘human resources’. We are people and people can ‘break’ with adverse implications for health and the ability to meet expectations not only of managers and colleagues, but customers too.  As a customer, I have often felt the urgency and speed of being served by employees under pressure – telephone enquiries ending prematurely when they seemed anxious to move on to the next call; leaving queues in banks, department stores, and coffee shops (because I ran out of time more often than patience). Fleeting conversations with fellow customers have included utterances of ‘not enough staff’ and ‘they should open another till’ along with a degree of sympathy for employees trying to do too much at once.  Of course, under-staffing can be a consequence of recruitment and retention problems (the NHS being a clear example), rather than decisions designed specifically to reduce labour costs.

However, those employees who take the trouble to ‘go the extra mile’, though already busy, do so at a cost to themselves.  They need to intensify their own effort and this increases pressure on the rest of their working day.  It can mean extending their working hours and involve giving up precious time with their families or other important aspects of themselves that are nothing to do with work. Some employers pay high rewards for this but many do not.  To champion the hard work of those employees who are doing their best to help their customers, patients, and clients, I extend my thanks to them.  For employers, while there are no easy answers to the imperative to control costs, they should reflect on the consequences of work intensification both for their employees and their business.

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