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Workloads are increasing – blame it on the computer!

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TrainingZONE's recent poll may have shown that a fair number of training and HR professionals seem to have work-life balance sewn up, but studies show there is a wealth of evidence to suggest that workloads are increasing across the board.

A study recently published by Francis Green, Professor of Economics at the University of Kent at Canterbury looks at the reasons for "hurry sickness" - the idea that modern work life is bringing increasing pressures to bear.

By studying responses by employees to statements about their work, and factors they felt were involved in determining how hard they worked, the study found that work effort has intensified, but is greatest for women, those over 40, those in the service and public sectors.

One obvious explanation for increased workload is that downsizing leads to problems as surviving employees work harder but become demoralised. Although change to organisational structures is a factor,the main finding of this study is that developments in technology are the main cause of increases in workload. Professor Green notes that the affect of IT in the workplace is to enhance the productivity of workers who are prepared and able to put in more effort, as it gives greater autonomy. Workplace policies such as Total Quality Management and Just-In-Time also serve to heighten these effects - technology also means that there can be more management control over employees' working practices.

Professor Green identifies a strong association between multi-skilling and hard work - if you don't have to rely on someone else to fulfill their part for you to carry on a task, it removes any 'downtime' spent waiting for the other person and means that you have greater responsibility for the whole task.

Although job insecurity is often cited as a reason for increased hard work, Professor Green's study finds no evidence for a general increase in instablility in employment. Instead, the study finds that there has been a redistribution of insecurity in Britain, and that those whose jobs have become less stable are simply those with more access to the media or in professional jobs, who are more likely to make the issue visible.

Professor Green states that there is also a trend within an economy sector towards an increase in effort related to a relative decrease in wages - in the 1990s, the education sector was the victim.

So it appears that technology is a double-edged sword for today's worker. If you can get the hang of it and are keen to make it work, you can find yourself taking on increasing amounts of work - so much for computers saving time!

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