'Superjobs': Why You Work More, Enjoy It Less
      Author:ANNE KADET     Source: http://cn.wsj.com     Release Time:7/8/2011 9:06:01 AM     View Times:11299
Businesses expect a lot more out of their employees these days, as a visit to Rioja, the top-rated Denver restaurant, can demonstrate. If you like Rioja's hazelnut tortamisu, thank pastry chef Eric Dale. And if you happen to pop your head into the bakery room and admire the tile job on the floor, you can thank him for that, too.

Ever since his boss, chef Jen Jasinski, discovered that Mr. Dale is handy, she's had him doing double duty as the maintenance man. He has spent hours repainting the oven, fixing the plumbing and installing a garbage disposal. And that's just the start. He used to manage the dessert operation at one of Ms. Jasinski's restaurants; now he's up to three. All told, Mr. Dale says, his hours have expanded to more than 60 a week.

In this new era of the superjob, everyone does windows, and anyone who gripes about working too hard will hear an even hairier tale from the exec on the next bar stool. Emboldened by an unemployment crisis that's only now easing up, businesses of all sizes have asked employees to take on extra tasks that have little to do with their primary roles and expertise -- with engineers going on sales calls, accountants pitching in on customer service and chief financial officers running a division on the side. And some believe this shift is permanent, as the quickening pace of change demands more flexibility from everyone at the office.

Management consultant Rich Moran, whose clients have included Apple and AT&T, says employees will do whatever it takes to help their company compete: 'Job descriptions are written in sand, and the wind is blowing.'

Some workplace experts say the superjob is the logical next step in management's quest to make the workplace more cost efficient. The latest shift started when businesses redistributed the workload during the recession; last year's nascent recovery intensified the process. In a recent survey by Spherion Staffing, 53% of workers surveyed said they've taken on new roles, most of them without extra pay (just 7% got a raise or a bonus). Now that sales are picking up, there's even more work to do, but companies are reluctant to hire, say human-resources experts. Some are anxious about what the economic future holds, while others are seeing their profits increase now that their work forces are leaner.

As hard as it can be to keep up, employees can benefit from the trend. Research shows that many successful leaders grew the most through 'stretch experiences,' says Seymour Adler, a senior vice president at Aon Hewitt's talent-and-rewards practice. Still, even the most hard-nosed bosses know workers can be stretched only so far. Indeed, a recent survey from the Conference Board found that just 43% of Americans are satisfied with their job -- a record low.

Assigning new roles to existing employees can be a smart move, says Debbie Zmorenski, a productivity consultant at LSA Partners in Orlando. But during the recession, instead of thoughtfully reassigning tasks based on a careful assessment of employees' skills, many companies redistributed the workload willy-nilly and provided little training. When you send a talented but shy IT specialist out to do sales, says Ms. Zmorenski, 'you're setting him up to fail.'

Taking on extra work doesn't necessarily mean a promotion. Some executives find themselves spending time on chores that used to be handled by junior staff. When Philadelphia-area copywriting and marketing consultant Carolyn Frith served as a marketing head for a home-fixtures manufacturer, she didn't mind proofing the price book while her product manager went on maternity leave. And when the security guard got laid off, and it fell on her to dial in the security codes for the parking-lot gates? Well, why not? The only problem: 'It was hard to find time to plan strategy and meet with customers,' she says.

If you're wondering why it's hard to juggle new roles, ask a neuroscientist. Recent research suggests that multitasking can reduce productivity, because it takes a ton of mental energy to switch from one task to the next. The sheer number of hours demanded by the superjob also can impair your performance as your brain gets fatigued, says Susan Koen, an organizational psychologist and consultant whose clients include Pfizer, Alcoa and Procter & Gamble.

To their credit, some employers are doing more to help their superstars. And companies that saw a rebound in 2010 are helping executives with time management and delegation.

Another popular tactic: recognition programs that reward employees for taking on extra work. Major companies are turning to software 'wizards' that dole out laurels on preset, automated schedules, says Adrian Gostick, a co-author of 'The Carrot Principle' and a former vice president at employee-recognition consultancy O.C. Tanner.

Of course, the ultimate responsibility for workload management falls to the employee. Experts say that in many cases, employers have no idea how many tasks they've loaded on one person, so workers have to 'manage up.'

Chris Perry, a Parsippany, N.J.-based brand manager responsible for a $65 million product line, says he's thriving after a recent promotion, thanks to his careful efforts to set limits. In order to spend evenings with his wife, he starts his workday early -- and often sends a few morning emails to make sure the effort gets noticed. When he's overwhelmed with projects, he asks top brass to clarify their priorities.

Still, Mr. Perry admits he's often tempted to work late when he sees his co-workers doing so. 'It's hard to play that game of impression versus reality,' he says.

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