Work is getting more intense, say over half of employees

Over half of workers (55%) feel work is getting more intense and demanding, according to a study from the Trades Union Congress (TUC).

A majority (61%) of workers also said they felt exhausted at the end of most working days. 

Over a third (36%) said they spent more time reading, sending and answering emails in 2022 than in the previous year, while 32% are spending more time outside of contracted hours doing core work activities. 

Gemma Dale, business lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University, said work intensified during the pandemic. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “Working remotely, which many people have continued to do post pandemic, has generally been found to be associated with work intensification, often because employees feel that they need to ‘give back’ to retain their flexible working opportunities.” 

Dale also suggested the cost of living crisis has led to work intensification, she said: “The cost of living crisis may have led to people being concerned about incomes and protecting their role through hard work.  

“They may also need to work more hours to earn more.” 

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The study found four in 10 (40%) workers are required to do more work in the same amount of time, while 38% were feeling more stressed at work. 

Jen Locklear, chief people officer at automation company ConnectWise, said this could be due to ongoing labour shortages.  

Speaking to HR magazine, Locklear argued over the past two years a lot of companies have seen their staff numbers reduced.

She said: “As a result, some employees have been expected to pick up more work than they have done in the past.

“Adding to this, rising compensation costs have meant some employers could be expecting more output based on higher wages, making work feel more overbearing.”  

TUC general secretary, Paul Nowak, suggested workplace surveillance could be partly to blame, as he said algorithmically set productivity targets can be unrealistic, forcing workers to work faster through constant monitoring, including monitoring the actions they perform and their productivity.  

He also blamed inadequate enforcement of working time regulations and the Strikes Bill making it harder for workers to engage in collective bargaining. 

Nowak said: “It’s time to tackle ever-increasing work intensity. That means strengthening enforcement so that workers can effectively exercise their rights. 

“It means introducing a right to disconnect to let workers properly switch off outside of working hours. 

“And it means making sure workers and unions are properly consulted on the use of AI and surveillance tech, and ensuring they are protected from punishing ways of working.” 

Dale said employers have a role to play in setting a sustainable pace and intensity of work by curating a healthy company culture. 

She said: “HR needs to ensure that managers are aware of the need to manage workloads effectively. Managers should be trained on the courses of workplace stress and how these stressors can be mitigated and avoided. 

“They can also send messages, formal and through those leadership behaviours, that the organisation prioritises rest and meaningful disconnection from work.” 

Locklear added that it is not always possible to decrease workloads, but employers should support staff in managing them. 

She said: “Understanding that most companies don’t have budgets to hire more resources will require employers to get creative about managing, not necessarily, lessening the workload.  

“Organisations should ask what training or education employees would like to help manage their workload – utilising helpful courses on things like organisation, prioritisation and delegation.  

“Employers should also embrace technology such as AI, educating employees on how they can use it to maximise efficiency.”