Tales From the Overworked

As more Americans lose jobs, those still employed face overwhelming workloads.

ByABC News
March 4, 2009, 3:18 PM

March 5, 2009 — -- Kristina didn't sign up for this.

The Oklahoma woman is the childcare director at her local YMCA. Lately, however, a staffing shortage at the chapter has forced Kristina to pitch in and help with other work, like advising members on how to use gym equipment.

"It's really tough," said the 28-year-old, who professed to having no interest in exercise. "It's like, 'OK, if you don't do it, who is going to do it?' and that just adds to your stress."

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Hundreds of miles away, Meagan, 27, a funeral home office manager in Ohio, has a more morbid story to tell. Cost-cutting by her employer has meant that Meagan is sometimes tasked with applying makeup to and styling hair on the deceased.

"I hate it!" she wrote in a message to ABCNews.com. "I don't enjoy being around dead people, but I respect them and their family, so I just deal with it."

As recession-wary businesses continue to slash jobs and more Americans struggle with unemployment, those who are fortunate enough to stay employed are grappling with their own problems: fear, frustration and, of course, more work.

"Employees are faced with doing more with less. That's like the mantra when you survive the layoffs," said Jenny Schade, the president of JRS Consulting, a management and marketing consulting firm in Chicago. "The organization is often so focused on getting through the layoffs that they don't determine in advance how the remaining employees are going to do all the work that everybody was doing to begin with."

Schade, a trained therapist who has worked with more than 1,000 employees at companies undergoing layoffs, calls these remaining employees the "working wounded."

"What you have is employees who have a form of survivor's guilt -- they made it through the layoffs, they've seen their colleagues lose their jobs, they feel guilty about this, and they're faced with a huge workload," she said. "It's demoralizing."

"Survivor's guilt" and low morale may be especially prevalent within the auto industry, where thousands of layoffs have left remaining industry workers reeling.

Lindsey Reisack helped create a sunglass collection while juggling her public relations duties at Cinzia Designs, an Arizona design firm./Photo courtesy of Cinzia Designs.

Brown, 33, who works as the firm's liaison to manufacturers, and Reisack, 26, a public relations coordinator, both attended design schools. The opportunity to design a sunglass collection, they said, gave them more experience in the field for which they trained.

"It's a very cool thing to have on your resume," Brown said.

That helps explain why the women, who said they could have opted out of the sunglasses assignment, spent several extra hours a week working on the new collection while continuing to do their own full-time jobs without extra pay.

"It's just something we're very passionate about," Reisack said.

Schade said that others, too, could find the upside to working at a short-staffed company.

"I'm telling employees to stretch out of their comfort zone; this can be an opportunity to gain some new expertise," she said. "It's a time to stand out."