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Who Pays When Work-Life Balance Gets Unbalanced?


We’d probably be the subject of justifiable ridicule if we were to come out against the notion of work life balance in the public sector workforce. The very notion that state and local employees should be able to balance dedication to their jobs with time enough for friends, family and pleasurable activities is nothing short of good common sense and is a major attraction for potential new employees.


Yet, in recent months as we’ve chatted with a number of managers, we seem to be running across a phenomenon that – taken to its extremes – can be debilitating to their lives.



It’s pretty simple. When employees are overly focused on a definition of work-life balance that tips too far in the direction of life and away from work, somebody has to pick up the slack. Not to knock members of the GenZ generation, but lately we’ve been hearing a fair number of middle manager – even middle managers in their thirties -- grousing about the extra work they’re doing because younger employees feel free to say no. As generational expert Kristin Scroggin told us recently, “I think social media has given them the idea that there can be this perfect life – that there’s a place where you can work when you want to, and only work in a job where you’re happy and fulfilled all the time. And if you’re not happy you should leave.”

This issue is particularly pressing at a time when state and local governments are struggling to hire and retain enough good employees to do necessary work. As Mission Square Research Institute reported a few months ago, “State and local governments continue to face severe labor shortages . . .”


Certainly, the absence of enough workers is putting great pressure on employees at all levels. Another Mission Square Report found 77 percent of respondents felt that the increase in workers leaving their jobs was putting a strain on their own workloads.


Last summer, we wrote a report about the problem of workplace fatigue. Most of it was focused on shift workers who are paid time and a half for overtime. But fatigue, we learned, was also a major issue for exempt employees who aren’t eligible for overtime.


Faced with labor shortages, they end up taking on more work themselves. “There’s a level of middle management that just absorbs the work because they can’t necessarily ask their employees to do overtime,” said Janeen Haller-Abernathy, who runs the internal Employee Assistance Program in Colorado. “It’s almost like the workload has moved up the chain instead of down the chain.”


To make matter worse, at a time like this, it can be nearly impossible for a supervisor to get to be too harsh when employees insist that they have already put in their 35-hour week, and so they’re going home regardless of whether their work has been completed. As the old saying goes, “People don’t leave jobs, they leave supervisors,” and a supervisor who seems to be too pushy may be just the kind of person who drives away the workers they’ve been struggling to attract.


It’s part of the American dream that if you work long enough and hard enough, eventually, you’ll reach a point where the drudge work falls to the people who report to you. If they can’t or won’t do it, though, then the dream can turn into a nightmare.


Typically, we like to write columns that have a happy ending, loaded with solutions that others can use. But this is an instance in which the only solution we can see is one we don’t want to see – and that’s an escalating unemployment rate, where younger staffers are happy just to have a job and are less inclined to let their work get done by the people who hired them.


1 comentario


Peter Howard
Peter Howard
01 nov 2023

Interesting concept; being retired and out of the workforce for 5 years I had no idea this was going on. With such high inflation and elevated cost of living I am surprised that these young Gen Z folks can afford to live without solid, hard working employment. I do see them at music concerts at $200 plus per ticket and do wonder where the money comes from. Maybe from their hard working parents, who should likely hold back some cash in the name of a “well rounded upbringing“.

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