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How to recognise job creep at work

Businessman on phone at desk in office with hand on forehead
Businessman on phone at desk in office with hand on forehead

You’ve been in your job for a while and the tasks you’ve got to tick off each day keep piling up. As soon as you think you’re on top of things, more work lands on your desk – and you’re putting in hours of overtime to try and get it all done.

Everyone has busy periods, but if your responsibilities are always increasing, you may be experiencing ‘job creep’. But what exactly is it – and why is it detrimental for both employers and employees?

Job creep is the gradual addition of work and responsibilities by an employer, which can lead to stress, exhaustion, burnout and a whole host of other problems.

Read more: What to do if you've been mis-sold a job

“The saying ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’ springs to mind here,” says careers expert Laura Kingston, director of Leap Career Coaching. “Managers can be guilty of overloading the employees that they trust the most and the ones who are most efficient.

“The problem with this can be that ultimately you lose your best employees to burnout, stress, or they leave the organisation for a less demanding role,” she explains. “Employees can feel it is unfair if they end up with higher workloads than others in a department, which can cause unrest and unsettle the dynamics of the team.”

Reports of high stress and burnout among employees are reaching critical levels in the UK. Last year, a YouGov survey found almost four in 10 workers (39%) said they felt stressed when they thought about work outside of work hours. Nearly a third said they worked unpaid overtime at least once a week.

Read more: What is 'moral injury' at work?

Research carried out by Glassdoor between June 2021 and May 2022 found that in more than 380,000 employee reviews, negative discussion about burnout had risen by 48%.

Burnout – a state of chronic stress that has both mental and physical repercussions – costs UK employers millions in days lost to poor health, low productivity and fast turnover. So why is job creep on the rise?

Job creep is becoming increasingly common due to the recession,” says Kingston. “Where there are recruitment freezes, managers are redistributing the workload across existing resources. This is happening to some of my clients at the moment, they are starting work earlier, finishing later and working through their lunch”

Employers also increase workloads and responsibilities due to pressure from the top to keep costs down and increase profits. “The economic situation doesn’t help as rising bills are reducing profits, putting pressure on managers to deliver the same output for less,” says Kingston.

“I believe some employers do this without being upfront due to fear of not being able to deliver their own targets, fear of not making enough money and fear of the employee saying no if they were transparent about it.”

Read more: Why people are quiet quitting at work

However, Kingston adds, transparency is key. “If employers were upfront and explained the rationale, people would be more likely to pull together and get through the tough times collaboratively. Instead, they feel they’ve been taken advantage of once they realise they’re the victim of job creep.”

How to tell if you’re experiencing job creep

It’s hard to tell if you’ve fallen prey to job creep. However, there are some telltale signs – including having to work increasingly late to get things done, or being given tasks that don’t usually fall under your remit.

“If you are being invited to meetings you didn’t used to attend, working longer hours or being given additional projects, you may be experiencing job creep,” says Kingston. “You may be being asked to cover some work ‘short term’ with no longer term plan in place, or the goal posts keep moving.”

Additionally, there may be broken promises of additional resources and support with no real intention behind it. Ultimately, if you’re doing more work – and taking on new responsibilities on top of your usual workload – you should be being compensated for it.

“My advice is to be clear on your boundaries and what you are willing to compromise on,” adds Kingston. “Yes, sometimes we have to work extra hours. However, if it is a consistent, continuous and unsustainable amount of work, you have the power to raise this and ultimately change roles if it is having a detrimental impact on your health and happiness.”

Watch: Why do we still have a gender pay gap?