Image Source: Breakthrough Global
As layoffs happen, teams get smaller, and with fewer resources, burnout becomes prevalent as the people still there have to do more with less.
As the head of marketing for a group of restaurants in the UK, James’ job was to come up with a long-term plan, build a steady digital audience, and bring in more customers over time. In reality, though, his job differed from what he was hired to do. There always needed more people to do even the smaller, more routine tasks, let alone the job he was hired for.
James, whose last name isn’t given to protect his career, lives in London. He says his bosses didn’t care much about him, and James often worked 16-hour days.
Because of labor shortages caused by Brexit, pandemic lockdowns, and the overall hiring crisis in the service industry, his team was so small that James says even managers often had to wait tables. These problems also affected his job: “Customers would have a bad time at the venue because there weren’t enough workers, which hurt me as a marketer,” he says.
James’s job soon became impossible because he needed help every day. “I can see why companies want to run things with a small staff to reduce risk, especially since the hospitality industry is going through a very hard time,” he says. “However, it hurts everyone involved a lot.”
Unbearable amounts of work
Even if there is a lot of work, just because a team is small doesn’t mean it needs to be bigger.
Some teams are made to be small, and employees are expected to do many different things so they can work with few resources. “In some cases, employees have different sets of skills that help them be efficient, productive, and do their jobs,” says Deniece Maston, an HR advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (Shrm) in Virginia, US.
But there is a big difference between a team that is meant to be small and quick and one that needs more resources.
When an employee isn’t there, if the workload becomes too much to handle and another worker’s tasks must be done by someone else, this is probably a sign of understaffing. “In these situations, employees may often have to work extra hours,” says Maston.
As layoffs happen faster around the world, the people who are still working are on smaller teams. And because the economy is still being determined, many businesses are trying to do more with less by cutting jobs and stopping new hires. Because fewer people are working, the people still there often have to pick up the slack, take on more work, and do things outside their job description.
All of this costs something. Because of the economy, more workers may find themselves in places that need more people to do the job. With the uncertain market, they may have no choice but to work as hard as possible. The work may still get done in the short term, but in the long run, not having enough people to do the job will cause stress, anxiety, burnout, and other less obvious problems.
Teams that don’t have enough resources can, of course, hurt a company’s output. But it also has a human side. In the end, workers have to deal with the effects of not having enough staff, making their already heavy workloads even harder mentally. This affects how well they do at work, which can be bad for them, and how they feel about themselves. “Not having enough people on a team causes burnout, stress and anxiety, which eventually hurts the quality of work and the employees’ health,” says Maston.
James was shocked by this fact, saying it put him in an impossible situation. “I had a choice: I could work a lot of hours, which would be tiring, or I could choose a shorter workday that would be easier to handle, but I would have to deal with stress later because I wouldn’t have gotten everything done that day.”
Will the burnout trend continue?
Before cross-sector job cuts were announced, many companies’ employees were already experiencing burnout.
During the height of the Great Resignation, for example, workers who stayed on the job were expected to fill in for those who left. Even though teams worked harder than usual to compensate for the lack of workers, many open positions stayed that way because recruiters had trouble filling them. A survey done by the British Chambers of Commerce in October 2022 of more than 5,100 firms showed that 76% needed help hiring staff, and 56% were operating at less than full capacity because of hiring shortages.
When compared to workers, management can have a different idea of what “understaffing” means. Chang says that bosses naturally like employees who are proactive and try to do their best.
Most of the time, workers will want to stick together for their safety and to help their colleagues who are struggling. This keeps productivity high in the short term, which makes bosses happy and gives them a reason to keep teams small, but it also hides the deeper problems of not having enough workers and the potential burnout effect. So even though a lack of resources can have immediate effects, the damage can also be slow and sneaky, hurting a career in the long run.
Experts say that understaffing can only go on for a while. After that, there’s always a breaking point, whether the work’s quality or the workers’ health.
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Even so, because of the economy and the job market, many workers can expect to be on short-staffed teams for now. Burnout aren’t just caused by companies that lay off workers. Some companies aren’t laying off people but still need help filling jobs open for years. This keeps teams that need more resources stuck in the same place.