American Workplace Is Stressful and Demanding, According to RAND Survey

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The American workplace is physically and emotionally demanding, with workers facing unstable work schedules, unpleasant and possibly hazardous working conditions, and an often hostile social environment, according to a new study.

The study, titled “American Working Conditions Survey” and derived research from nonprofit RAND Corp., Harvard Medical School and UCLA, examined working conditions in the United States.

More than 25% of American workers say they have too little time to do their job. The complaint is most common among white-collar workers.

Employees also say the intensity of work frequently carries over into their personal lives, with about one-half reporting that they perform some work in their free time in order to meet workplace demands, the study found.

Even so, American workers appear to have some autonomy on the job, most feel confident about their skills and many report that they receive social support while on the job.

“I was surprised how taxing the workplace appears to be, both for less-educated and for more-educated workers,” said lead author Nicole Maestas, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and an adjunct economist at RAND.

Researchers say that while eight in 10 American workers report having steady and predictable work throughout the year, just 54% report working the same number of hours on a day-to-day basis. One in three workers say they have no control over their schedule. This might be attributable to the change in workplace schedules in sectors such as retail, where many companies have shifted to a more as-needed platform for workers.

Despite discussion about the growth of telecommuting, 78% of workers report they must be present at their workplace during regular business hours.

Nearly three-fourths of American workers report either intense or repetitive physical exertion on the job at least one-fourth of the time. While workers without a college education report greater physical demands, many college-educated and older workers are affected as well.

In an alarming finding, more than half of Americans report exposure to unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions. Nearly 20% of workers say they face a hostile or threatening social environment at work. Younger and prime-aged women are the workers most likely to experience unwanted sexual attention, while younger men are more likely to experience verbal abuse.

The findings are from a survey of 3,066 adults who participate in the RAND American Life Panel, a nationally representative, computer-based sample of people from across the United States. The workplace survey was conducted in 2015 to collect detailed information across a broad range of working conditions in the American workplace, as well as details about workers and job characteristics.

The American Working Conditions Survey found that while many American workers adjust their lives to accommodate work, about one-third say they are unable to adjust their work schedules to accommodate personal lives. In general, women are more likely than men to report difficulty arranging for time off during work hours to take care of personal or family matters.

Older workers are more likely to value the ability to control how they do their work and setting the pace of their work, as well as less physically demanding jobs.

The survey also confirms that retirement can be fluid. Many older workers say they have previously retired before rejoining the workforce, and many people aged 50 and older who are not employed say they would consider rejoining the workforce if conditions were right.

Among other findings of the survey:

  • Only 38% of workers say their job offers good prospects for advancement. All workers, regardless of education, become less optimistic about career advancement as they become older.
  • Four out of five American workers report that their job provides “meaning” always or most of the time.
  • Nearly two-thirds of workers experience some degree of mismatch between their desired and actual working conditions, with the number rising to nearly three-quarters when job benefits are taken into account.
  • Nearly half of workers report working more than their preferred number of hours per week, while some 20% report working fewer than their preferred number of hours.

Other authors of the study were Kathleen J. Mullen, David Powell and Jeffrey B. Wenger, all from RAND, and Till von Wachter of UCLA.