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Multiple job duties yield multiple benefits for workers, U. of I. expert says

6/2/2008

Brianna Caza
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Business administration professor Brianna Barker Caza says on-the-job juggling can yield career and even personal benefits, not just stress and burnout.

Jan Dennis, Business & Law Editor
217-333-0568; jdennis@illinois.edu

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. — Worn thin from wearing too many hats at work?

Turns out all of that on-the-job juggling can yield career and even personal benefits, not just stress and burnout, according to new research by a University of Illinois business professor. 

“Contrary to what people commonly think, having a complex work identity and a lot of different roles can actually be a resource for people and doesn’t just lead to exhaustion and depletion,” said Brianna Barker Caza, a U. of I. business administration professor.

Among other things, multiple duties translate into broader knowledge and skills, making those workers more well-rounded and better able to steer through times of trouble, said Caza, who co-wrote an article about the research with University of Auckland business and economics professor Marie Wilson.

Toggling among varied chores day in and day out assembles a bigger bag of problem-solving tools for multi-tasking workers, whether it’s a nurse who also manages other caregivers or an engineer who also sells and markets property, Caza said.

“When you’ve been trained in a certain way of doing things, they kind of become ingrained and you’re able to respond almost automatically when adversity or turbulent situations arise,” she said.

Workers with multiple duties also have regular contact with a broader network of colleagues, who can then be called on for advice or even emotional support, Caza said. And balancing different jobs enhances negotiating skills that come in handy on the job or off.

“They actually gain social skills because they play this negotiator role as they deal with competing demands at work,” she said. “So they can use that in their personal lives as well if they have families that don’t get along or when they’re buying cars.”

Organizations also benefit, Caza says. Workers who embrace multiple roles also are generally team players who go above and beyond expectations, whether on assignments or by taking on extra duties such as mentoring new hires.

Caza says multiple duties have become the rule rather than the exception as U.S. workplaces steadily veered away from the assembly-line approach of the mid-20th century.

But some workers still balk at the change, bemoaning overload and burnout rather than recognizing the benefits of multi-tasking, Caza said.

“Psychological research has repeatedly shown that in people’s minds, bad is always stronger than good. As a result, we tend to think more about the bad things and they tend to be more predominant.

“But people should think of these multiple roles not as a strain but as a resource,” she said. “There’s a payoff because it can make you more confident in times of adversity. You’ll have a broader array of skills to call on at work and in your personal life. And, if you go into the job market, you’ll have more skills and abilities that will make you attractive to prospective employers.”

The research, based on surveys and interviews with workers in health care and a variety of other professions, will be published next year in “Exploring Positive Identities and Organizations,” an edited volume dedicated to understanding the impact of identity in modern organizations.

“Our conclusion is basically that individuals shouldn’t be afraid of having a very complex work identity and taking on multiple roles,” Caza said. “It has the potential of making their job easier in the long run and they may experience increased professional and psychological health that will in turn benefit their well-being.”

Editor’s note: To contact Brianna Barker Caza, call 217-244-9333; e-mail bcaza@illinois.edu.