how going above and beyond at work became required
Global – Whether it’s staying up late, working weekends to improve a project, or going to work, no matter what, many employees tend to put in more hours and complete more tasks than their job descriptions indicate. And while for some, this extra effort is necessary in order to move a step forward in their career, for others, it seems like built-in minimum expectations from their employer.
This reality has been exposed by the phenomenon of silent layoffs, when unengaged employees refuse to work beyond the hours and tasks they are paid to complete. This sparked a heated discussion centered around the idea of how normal it had become to expect more and more from workers in the first place.
The reality is that a workplace culture that requires employees to do their best has evolved over several decades. While this brings clear benefits to organizations looking to increase productivity, it can cause stress, resentment, and burnout for workers. And with Covid-19 forcing millions of people to rethink their work-life balance, it’s a status quo that some no longer want to put up with.
From exception to expectation
There have always been people who want to succeed by looking good at work. But 100 years ago, these people were the exception rather than the rule, not least because their peers ignored them.
According to Hawthorne’s study, which analyzed workers at an electrical plant in Chicago from 1927 to 1932, production line employees who worked faster than others were labeled “tariff breakers.”
It is difficult to determine the exact moment when this change took place. Instead, several factors combined to create these conditions, she explains.
First, the decline in union power has accelerated this shift. In the UK in 1980, for example, union membership was 12.2 million. According to the Ministry of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, by 2020 their number has halved to approximately 6.6 million.
The nature of work roles also changed during this time. Since automation has eliminated many types of manual labor, defining worker roles has become more difficult. While the job expected of a bricklayer is relatively easy to spell out in a job description, for example, the same is not true for a graphic designer or management consultant.
Feel the pressure more than others
The combination of these factors has turned everything possible at work from an exception to an expectation. And that has left millions of people looking to get ahead or just keep their jobs in the predicament of either going beyond their job responsibilities or ending up looking like a slacker. However, some workers feel this pressure more than others.
There are certain professions where long hours are considered the norm today. This includes the likes of investment bankers or management consultants, where large pay packages are seen as an excuse for little or no free time. In professional occupations such as education or healthcare, it is also assumed that staff are passionate enough to happily stay late or take on extra tasks. According to a January 2022 NHS survey, three-quarters of healthcare workers said they took on extra unpaid hours because they were forced to do so out of obligation or goodwill.