Job demands – the full story.
Author: Chris McCarthy, Psychologist | Rehabilitation Consultant
Often times when we think about the demands of our work, we think in terms of their being too many, although this is not the full story.
Demands are what make our work challenging, and therefore we feel a sense of accomplishment when we are able to perform well and achieve success in our jobs. Therefore, demands are necessary.
When the job demands (high workload, ill-defined roles, etc.) outweigh our resources (sense of autonomy, support from colleagues / supervisors, etc.) there is an increased likelihood of negative outcomes, such as issues with sleep, burnout, and increased ill-health. This is intuitive. We tend to notice this too (or those around us will!).
Whilst job demands, beyond the bounds of our ability to cope, can be detrimental to our effectiveness and overall wellbeing, there is little attention given to the impacts of low job demands, particularly in the space outside of academia.
Research has found high demands, if coupled with appropriate levels of resources can lead to greater levels of work engagement, which incorporates factors such as enthusiasm, dedication, and connectedness. But, if our work is not adequately aligned with our abilities (i.e., low job demands), then this will make us feel as though we could / should be doing more. Job satisfaction will also decline as a result. Both of these variables are highly correlated with productivity.
Speaking with someone recently triggered my deeper thinking about this topic as he spoke of going through a restructure in which his role was altered. He went from a doing a job in which he reported being challenged every day and one which utilised and stretched his capability, to all of a sudden having to do much less. Initially, he thought “this is going to be great… I’ll have less to do… I can relax more” having reported previously, that his job could be stressful at times. However, what he reported was not what he expected. He reported a significant drop in enthusiasm and energy and even a noticeable drop in his moods.
Obviously, there would be personality factors which would play a part, but I think what his story highlighted (for me at least) was the need to feel challenged at work, and feeling as though your skills and abilities are being put to good use.
Like all things in life, it is a tricky balance to find, but I think it is worth noting that it’s not all about being overworked. Being underworked poses its own challenges.
Bakker, A. B., & Demerouti, E. (2007). The job demands‐resources model: State of the art. Journal of managerial psychology, 22(3), 309-328.
Karasek Jr, R. A. (1979). Job demands, job decision latitude, and mental strain: Implications for job redesign. Administrative science quarterly, 285-308.
Sonnentag, S. (2022). Job Stress: Revisiting Karasek’s Job Demand–Job Control Studies. Organisational Psychology: Revisiting the Classic Studies, 111.