Well-Being//

The American Workplace Is Even More Stressful Than We Thought

Insights from a new study looking at work from home, workplace social interactions, work spillover and more.

A newly released survey from RAND, Harvard University and the University of California Los Angeles paints an eye-opening portrait of the state of work in the U.S.: an alarming number of people report working in hostile environments, dealing with stressful and unrealistic deadlines and facing physical danger.

The findings are pulled from the 2015 American Working Conditions Survey, which included responses from a nationally representative sample of more than 3,000 working people between ages 25 and 71. Participants from a variety of industries and educational backgrounds completed online surveys about their work and lives. The official report of the findings breaks them down into a few main sections including physical and social risks of work, the pace and pressure of work and how office events spill into employees’ personal lives.

Here are a few important findings.

Telecommuting isn’t as common as you might think
While work-from-home is on the rise these days, many people don’t have the luxury of setting up shop in their kitchen: seventy-eight percent of respondents said they were required to be in the office during regular business hours. In addition, only 15 percent of people said they could control their own schedule. Education level plays a role: college grads reported having far more control over their schedules compared to non-college grads, with older, college-educated men having the most freedom of all.

Workplaces aren’t that flexible
Thirty-one percent of people reported being unable to change their work schedule to make room for personal matters, something that affected younger workers and women in particular. Many younger workers reported feeling governed by their work schedule, in part because they’re at an age where there’s a delicate balance between work and family, especially if there are young kids in the mix. For women, integrating work and life doesn’t get easier with age, according to the report, which notes that this might be because of “child-rearing demands or the need to assist elderly parents.”

Most of us don’t have enough hours in the day
American workers report struggling to handle what’s on their plate. One reason, as anyone who works in an office can relate to, is being interrupted. One in five American workers gets frequently disrupted during work, and interestingly, men under 35 without a college degree are “three times more likely than comparable women to experience frequent, negative disruptions.” While interruptions can certainly disrupt your flow, it might not be the only reason people struggle to get everything done: two-thirds of Americans work at high speeds or under tight deadlines and one in four reported feeling they didn’t have enough time to do their job. This portrays the office as an “environment that is often stressful and mentally taxing, in addition to being physically taxing,” according to the report. About half of the people surveyed reported using their personal time to finish work.

Work can literally be a danger to your health
Stress caused by tight deadlines and not being able to manage life outside the office can have mental and physical repercussions, but more literally, more than half of Americans surveyed reported “exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions.” The burden of unsafe physical conditions falls primarily on non-college graduates and men, the report says, though things like excessive sitting (sitting has been linked to a host of health problems), doing repetitive physical tasks or exposure to fumes can affect college graduates, older workers and women as well.

For many people, work is a hostile place
The report details how younger women are more likely to “experience unwanted sexual attention” while younger men are “more likely to experience verbal abuse,” especially those who are not college educated. One in five people reported experiencing some form of “verbal abuse, sexual attention, threats or humiliating behavior at work in the past month” or physical violence, bullying or harassment in the past 12 months, according to the report. Customer-facing workers or service workers are significantly more likely to experience that abuse.

While the findings indicate that the workplace is a source of physical and social stress for many Americans, the survey also reveals how positive the workplace can be. More than half of American workers described their boss as supportive and reported having good friends at work. Women were more likely to have strong friendships at the office, according to the report, but less likely to have a supportive boss. Having a supportive boss is desirable for many reasons, but the report notes one reason may be that such leaders provide a “protective effect against adverse social interactions.”

Another interesting part of the survey asked about how meaningful people felt their work was. The most common sources of meaning, according to the report, are feeling like one is doing useful work (63 percent) or having a sense of personal accomplishment (61 percent).

This report is startling in its scope and underscores why work needs to be a place of meaning and social support. These findings show that American workplaces have quite a long ways to go.

Read more here.

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