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02 May 2023

Why is Work So “Creepy”? 

Virtually Human

By Jan Iverson

Eliminating job creep will require a new perspective from senior leaders.

Unpaid overtime has become the norm where employees expect to exceed their job descriptions if they want to get ahead and some even see it as a necessity to keep their positions. Workers who stay late, work sick or work weekends outside of normal office hours feel like this is a minimum expectation from their employer. The culture of “more and more” often breeds stress, resentment and burnout. This growing intensity has led to 50% of US workers feeling that they are underpaid for their job.   

From “the exception” to expectation 

This phenomenon is known as “job creep” where you work harder for a given time period, which often evolves into a constant expectation from your employer: you always have to be able to juggle, not only your job role, but continuous add-ons. The notion of automatically doing more to be seen as doing a “good job” is now facing pushback. 

Reasons for job creep pushback: 

  • Wages stagnating compared with inflation 
  • Chronic overworking and stress 
  • Extra tasks having little to zero impact on performance evaluations 
  • No credit being given for increased tasks 
  • Widening wage gap between executives and employees 
  • Fewer opportunities for rewards or progression 

On an individual level, for women, Blacks, Hispanics, Latinos/as, Asians, and other ethnic minorities, the pressure to go above and beyond is even greater, as ongoing racial and gender bias often result in discriminatory employer actions in the area of promotions and performance maintenance. These arbitrary practices create an avoidable trust deficit between companies and employees. 

Ways to combat job creep 

  • What do you do exactly? Others may not understand your role leading to unreasonable expectations. Educate them about your job duties with examples of things outside your role and discuss how to further cultivate collaboration to ease the burden of increased tasks.  
  • From “busy work” to the right work. Teach your teams about the business, like the cost of goods and services. This will help them set clearer boundaries to curb job creep, as they will be able to prioritize work assignments to maintain the business’ profitability above other non-critical tasks. This will involve consistent check-ins with your team to ensure work balance is being maintained.  
  • Revise workflows. Re-invent internal processes like performance management, surveys and talent mobility to match the shift. Roll out changes incrementally, like replacing some meetings with email/messaging to “give back” their time. You must have the right systems in place to support employees. Be sure to align the shareholders on the necessity of this culture change.  
Creep Article Quote

A “light bulb” moment  

Eliminating job creep will require a new perspective from senior leaders. Overwork has become dangerously glorified. Evidence suggests that one of the biggest advantages of working fewer hours is that it makes people better workers.  

Employers must be trained to appreciate employee contributions based on their outcomes and not on how many overtime hours they put in, or how many text messages they respond to at midnight. Employers need to “walk the talk” on work-life balance to nurture productive, healthier and satisfied employees.  

Jan Iverson is the Creative Director at FS Studio and an award-winning product leader with over 20-years of extensive experience in digital media and marketing, with a specialization in the design and development of AR, VR and 3D activations: mobile apps, games, LBE, sales tools, digital twins; with XR cross-platform content development, and a track record of success in leading award-winning digital creative teams. Virtually Human is her bi-weekly series.