You’ve been spared the axe and escaped the latest round of layoffs at your office, so you can breathe easier, right?

Not necessarily.

As companies scale back in this turbulent economy, employees who remain often shoulder added responsibilities and heavier workloads to compensate for others who have been let go. That can lead to longer hours and higher stress levels — or worse.

Nora Spinks is president of Work-Life Harmony, a Toronto-based international research and consulting firm that helps employers with workplace policies, practices, benefits and leadership development.

At Health and Safety Canada 2009, a conference and trade show hosted by the Industrial Accident Prevention Association in Toronto this spring, Spinks led a workshop called Workload Unplugged: Strategies for the Overworked, Overwhelmed and Overloaded.

Spinks said when it comes to workplace survivors trying to stay afloat, it’s all about keeping perspective and a positive attitude. She acknowledges that can be “really difficult to do when you feel like you’re just drowning.”

For those feeling overwhelmed, Spinks said it’s important they know they probably have more negotiating power than they believe.

For example, rather than simply agreeing to take on the work of three people, she suggests first asking a lot of open-ended questions of superiors.

“Instead of asking, ‘How do I do that?’ phrase it as in ‘Tell me how to,’ because they can’t walk away from that or they can’t say, ‘You figure it out,’” Spinks said.

“You’re communicating that you’re taking this seriously, that you’re willing to say, ‘I’m up for this’ and ‘There’s only 24 hours in a day’ and ‘I’m not prepared to give up my health, my well-being, my relationships for this job’ without being rude or disrespectful to your boss or your co-workers,” she added.

While it’s one thing to express concerns, Spinks said employees shouldn’t shy away from offering a concrete solution to a problem they’re dealing with and asking for permission to carry it out to make their work-life balance more manageable.

Spinks said the worst thing to do is stay silent out of fear you’ll be identified as a complainer or be the next one to be laid off.

Above all, Spinks said maintaining open dialogue between management and employees is among the fundamentals to solving problems and ultimately achieving success.

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