THE WORKPLACE Study: Job stress is widespread
White-collar burnout is now the focus of much research.
RALEIGH NEWS & amp; OBSERVER
Unlike some of his former co-workers, Mike Hewitt still has a job. He also has a workload that has nearly doubled, a staff that struggles with morale problems, less time for his family and more worries in general.
Stress already costs U.S. businesses a fortune in lost workdays, lower productivity and worker's compensation claims: $300 billion a year, according to the American Institute of Stress. This year, as corporations tighten belts and trim jobs, expect even more employees to complain about migraine headaches, stomachaches, fatigue and other ailments linked to pressure on the job.
"We're having people working harder doing the things that they're supposed to do, but experiencing less success than they had before, and that creates a lot of anxiety," said Hewitt, director of client services for Renaissance Worldwide, an information technology consulting firm in Cary, N.C.
Case in point: "When we were really busy and had a tough time keeping up with all the work coming in, I was probably working 40 hours a week," he recalled. "Now that business is down 15 percent, I'm working 60 hours a week."
Many of those hours are spent in the car as he battles traffic to cover for a manager at the company's Greensboro office who was laid off along with five other people in May. Hewitt's cellular phone bills, meanwhile, have soared from $120 to nearly $700 a month as he attends conference calls and sets up meetings from the car.
Recent study: A recent study by the Families and Work Institute in New York found that 28 percent of American employees often or very often feel overworked or overwhelmed by their workload. More than half of the people interviewed said they felt overworked at least sometimes in the past three months, and 44 percent that they're putting in more hours than they would like to work.
It's not a new problem, but it appears to be growing worse.
A 1999 survey by CCH, an Illinois provider of tax and business law information, found that the number of workers who called in sick because of stress nearly tripled between 1995 and 1999 even though overall absenteeism declined 7 percent during that time period. Stress is now considered an occupational hazard that can lead to cardiovascular disease, muscoskeletal disorders, diminished immune functions and a number of mental disorders if it goes unaddressed.
Meanwhile, many workers are putting in longer hours -- or additional hours away from the office -- as cellular phones, e-mail and other technology cut into the leisure time we once took for granted. One-fifth of American workers now work an average of 49 hours a week, according to the American Institute of Stress.
White-collar burnout: While some traditional jobs such as firefighting and law enforcement have always been associated with stress, much research is now focused on the white-collar burnout that increased during the 1990s boom years. White-collar workers are absent from work more often due to stress than blue-collar and service workers combined, according to a 1999 Bureau of Labor Statistics report. The finance, real estate and insurance sectors were most prone to stress.
The federal government doesn't track how many hours professional and managerial employees put in, because they don't get overtime pay. But there's plenty of anecdotal evidence that many Americans work longer days today than they used to, said Michael Wald, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Atlanta.
"And there are good indications that longer hours of work is associated with higher levels of stress," said Naomi Swanson, who leads the Work Organization and Stress Research Section at the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in Cincinnati.
So what's going on -- and why are we putting up with it?
"The climate at work has changed," said John Drake, founder of the human-resources consulting giant Drake Beam Morin and a former workaholic who wrote a book titled "Downshifting -- How to Work Less and Enjoy Life More" (Berrett-Koehler Publishers, $15.95).
"The attitude used to be that if you kept your nose clean and did your work, you had a job for life," Drake said. "Now the idea of a permanent job is an oxymoron. It doesn't matter how good you are, you could still be gone tomorrow, and that puts a lot of pressure on people."