updated 8/2/2010 1:15:38 PM ET 2010-08-02T17:15:38

The shoddy economy is leaving many workers feeling overworked, underpaid — and yet relieved to be employed at all.

“Fewer workers are doing more and more,” said Brett Good, a district president with staffing firm Robert Half, which has surveyed workers on this topic. “You’ve got a lot of people that are working harder, making less money — and you’re getting to a point of frustration.”

Employers have cut millions of jobs since the recession began in December 2007, driven by a drop in business and a desire to shore up costs and boost profits. Although the cost-cutting has helped propel a spate of strong earnings in recent weeks, pleasing Wall Street, it has left those who are still employed struggling to pick up the slack.

Fifty-six percent of Americans have taken on extra duties at work over the past two years because of staff cuts, according to insurer MetLife’s Study of the American Dream, which was conducted in April and released last week.

Employees also are cramming more work into each day. Labor productivity has moved steadily higher over the past two years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Vote: Taking on more work in weak economy?

While many employees have been happy to assume extra duties in exchange for having a job at all, there are signs of growing frustration, or weariness.

More than one-third of college-educated professionals surveyed by Robert Half do not believe they have been fairly compensated for the extra work they have had to take on because of the weak economy.

That may be one reason up to 50 percent of workers say they plan to look for a new job once the economy improves, up from 25 to 35 percent in more prosperous times, said Good.

“Look around your office,” Good said. “About half of those people are passive jobseekers.”

Of course, some people may be eager to switch jobs for other reasons, such as because they were forced to take a pay cut or a position beneath their qualifications because of the weak job market.

Still, the fact that people say they want to find a new job doesn’t mean they will actually do it, Good said.

For one thing, with the unemployment rate at a high 9.5 percent, there still aren’t that many jobs out there. As of May there were about 4.7 jobseekers for every job opening, according to the Economic Policy Institute.

Also, with the economic situation still fairly uncertain, many people may feel it is too risky to move to another company, where the situation could be even worse or they could end up being first in line for a layoff, Good said.

Building skills, fearing change
Robert Burgett, 39, is one of those who has been working harder for less money during the recession. Over the past several years the San Francisco-based graphic designer has been asked to take on more responsibilities, including coming up with marketing ideas and writing copy. Meanwhile, he’s had a 20 percent pay cut, seen his health care costs rise and watched as about half of his colleagues have been let go.

In better economic times, that might have prompted him to look around for other opportunities. But in this economy, he worries that a new job would end up being even less secure than the one he has now. And after watching his partner and roommates all go through job losses this year, he doesn’t feel like it would be worth risking what he has now.

Instead, Burgett has tried to see the recession as an opportunity for reinvention. By taking on more responsibilities, he believes he has a much broader wealth of expertise, which could help  if he does get laid off.

“I’m looking at it like I’m getting more skills, so I’m more able to market myself,” he said.

‘Happy to have a job’
Most people who are enduring harder says at the office probably are relieved just to be working, said David Bowles, a consultant and co-author of the book “Employee Morale: Driving Performance in Challenging Times."

“The average worker is probably quite happy to have a job,” Bowles said. “The overriding feeling is (that) whatever’s happening to them, they are not on the other side of that fence.”

Still, that doesn’t mean employee morale is high. In fact it is likely to have fallen sharply at companies that have gone through multiple rounds of layoffs or where bosses have been secretive about their company’s financial situation.

On the other hand, if a company has been open about its financial troubles and made clear that everyone is sharing the pain in areas such as pay or benefit cuts, employees might grow more loyal.

“If you’ve been treated OK through this recession, you’re going to remember it and you’re going to want to pay that back,” Bowles said.

Guy Norbury, 55, said he appreciated the way the managers at the large travel company where he works scheduled conference calls to explain what was happening once the economic downturn started, and to reassure employees that they were working hard to keep as many jobs as possible.

The company did end up cutting some people in Norbury’s department, and his workload increased to make up for the lost workers. But Norbury, who telecommutes from his home in New York's Catskills Mountains, said he didn't mind picking up the extra work, especially because of the way his bosses handled the situation.

“They won me over. I was impressed,” he said.

Recently, the company has added back a couple workers, and last week his bosses even surprised him with a 3 percent raise. He said he has no plans to look elsewhere once the economy improves.

“I trust this company completely now,” he said.

Feeling overworked? Take a break and follow me on Twitter @alinnmsnbc

Photos: Silver foxes

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  1. George Clooney

    Sometimes all that glitters can be gray, as these entertainment and political stars prove by proudly displaying their silver hairs.

    Birthdate: 05/06/1961

    Earned Gray Hair By : Playing charming and likable scam artists/scoundrels in such films as "Out of Sight" (1996), "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" (2000), "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) and "Burn After Reading" (2008), as well as through exposing and campaigning for the Darfur crisis. (Damien Meyer / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Diane Keaton

    Birth date: 01/05/1946

    Earned Gray Hair By : Putting up with difficult men like Michael Corleone, Woody Allen and Jack Nicholson in such films as "The Godfather" (1972), "Annie Hall" (1977), "The First Wives Club" (1996) and "Something’s Gotta Give" (2003). (Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Richard Gere

    Birth date: 08/31/1949 - changed. Earned Gray Hair By: Sweeping leading ladies like Lauren Hutton, Debra Winger and Julia Roberts off their feet in such films as "American Gigolo" (1980), "An Officer and a Gentleman" (1982), "Pretty Woman" (1990) and "Nights in Rodanthe" (2008). Changed. (Stephen Lovekin / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Jamie Lee Curtis

    Birth date: 11/22/1958

    Earned Gray Hair By : Trying to avoid horrifying death in such "Scream Queen" classics as "Halloween" (1978), "The Fog" (1980), "True Lies" (1994) and "Halloween: Resurrection" (2002). (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Anderson Cooper

    Birth date: 06/03/1967

    Earned Gray Hair By: Reporting the hard breaking news and asking the tough questions as anchor of CNN's show "Anderson Cooper 360." (Gabriel Bouys / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Helen Mirren

    Birth date: 07/26/1945

    Earned Gray Hair By : Working hard as an actress, earning Emmys for "Prime Suspect" and an Oscar as Queen Elizabeth II in "The Queen" along the way. (Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Eric Dane

    Birth date: 11/09/1972

    Earned Gray Hair By: Saving patients' lives and seducing nurses or fellow residents as Dr. Mark Slone of ABC's hit TV show "Grey’s Anatomy." (Valery Hache / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Paula Deen

    Birth date: 01/19/1947

    Earned Gray Hair By : Being an Emmy-winning TV cook, running a Savannah, Georgia, restaurant with her sons, and publishing five cookbooks. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Ted Danson

    Birth date: 12/29/1947

    Earned Gray Hair By: Serving drinks and talking about his ex-baseball days at the bar where everybody knows your name in the classic TV show "Cheers." (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Judi Dench

    Birth date: 12/09/1934

    Earned Gray Hair By : Being one of England's greatest actresses, earning an Oscar, two Golden Globes, and a Tony -- as well as trying to control 007 as M in the James Bond movies. (Chris Jackson / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. Robert De Niro

    Birth date: 08/17/1943

    Earned Gray Hair By: Seeking revenge on those who attempted to kill him in such "mobster" movies as "The Godfather Part II" (1974), "The Untouchables" (1987), "Goodfellas" (1990) and "Analyze This" (1999). (Pascal Le Segretain / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Emmylou Harris

    Birth date: 04/02/1947

    Earned Gray Hair By : Forging a long music career that has garnered her 10 Grammys over 29 years, as well as suffering the devastating loss of music partner Gram Parsons, who died of a drug overdose in 1973. (Rick Nederstigt / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. Harrison Ford

    Birth date: 07/13/1942

    Earned Gray Hair By: Fighting the dark side, hunting down replicants/androids and recovering important artifacts in such films as "Star Wars" (1977) "Blade Runner" (1982) and "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (2008). (Stephen Shugerman / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. David Gregory

    Birth date: 08/24/1970

    Earned Gray Hair By: Pinning politicians down with tough questions as moderator of NBC News' "Meet the Press." (Joshua Roberts / AFP - Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. Roseanne Barr

    Birth date: 11/03/1956

    Earned Gray Hair By : Rising from blue-collar background in Salt Lake City to a successful comedy and acting career (not to mention surviving criticism of her performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at a 1990 baseball game). (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. Mark Harmon

    Birth date: 09/02/1951

    Earned Gray Hair By: First from working long shifts at the hospital as "St. Elsewhere" (starting in 1983) and then from conducting criminal investigations involving the U.S. Navy and the Marine Corps in "NCIS" (starting in 2003). (Frazer Harrison / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  17. Bill Maher

    Birth date: 02/20/1956

    Earned Gray Hair By: Making political satire and sociopolitical commentary every week as host of HBO’s "Real Time." (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  18. Ruby Dee

    Birth date: 10/27/1924

    Earned Gray Hair By : Working for civil rights with her late husband, actor Ossie Davis, as well as forging a distinguished acting career that has spanned some 60 years. (Frederick M. Brown / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  19. Bill Clinton

    Birth date: 08/19/1946

    Earned Gray Hair By: Serving as the 42nd President of the United States from 1993-2001, writing his autobiography "My Life" in 2004 and campaigning with his wife Hillary during her 2008 presidential run. (Steve Helber / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  20. Kathleen Sebelius

    Birth date: 05/15/1948

    Earned Gray Hair By : Governing the state of Kansas since 2003 -- and facing the tough challenge of reforming health care as President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services. (Jason Reed / Reuters) Back to slideshow navigation
  21. Jon Stewart

    Birth date: 11/28/1962

    Earned Gray Hair By: Having to be funny every night as host of Comedy Central’s "The Daily Show." (Ethan Miller / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  22. Cloris Leachman

    Birth date: 04/30/1926

    Earned Gray Hair By : Winning eight prime-time Emmys (more than any other actress) and an Oscar for "The Last Picture Show" (1971) -- only to be eliminated from "Dancing with the Stars." (Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  23. Stacy London

    Birth date: 05/25/1969

    Earned Gray Hair By : Seeing the frightening clothes in peoples’ wardrobes before she helps make them over on TV’s "What Not to Wear." (Evan Agostini / Getty Images) Back to slideshow navigation
  24. Lily Munster

    Birth date: 1827

    Earned Gray Hair By : Being an undead vampire on "The Munsters" (her real-life portrayer, actress Yvonne De Carlo, died in 2007 at the age of 84). (Everett Collection) Back to slideshow navigation
  25. Meryl Streep

    Birth date: 06/22/1949

    Earned Gray Hair By : Letting it go that way for her performance as a domineering magazine editor in "The Devil Wears Prada" (2006) -- garnering her an unprecedented 14th Oscar nomination as well as a Golden Globe. (20th Century Fox) Back to slideshow navigation
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Data: Latest rates in the US

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Home equity type Today +/- Chart
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