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Kathy Slobogin: Stress in the workplace

Kathy Slobogin  

CNN family and education correspondent Kathy Slobogin reports on a study released Wednesday suggesting that many U.S. workers may be working too hard.

CNN Moderator: What are some of the highlights of this new report on work and stress?

Kathy Slobogin: Well, the headline is that nearly half of U.S. workers feel overworked or overwhelmed. They found that employees, on average, prefer to work about 35 hours a week. But for many, that's really a distant fantasy. About one-quarter of U.S. workers work 50 or more hours a week and the same percentage doesn’t take all the vacation time that they're entitled to.

The survey also found that we pay a price for overwork. Overworked employees are more likely to have work and family conflict, negative health effects, things like sleep loss. They're much more likely to make mistakes on the job, and there are bottom-line implications for business, like higher health-care costs for stressed employees, or the cost of training new workers when burned out employees leave.

Work crunch

Question from chat room: Do men and women differ in how they are affected by stress?

Kathy Slobogin: Yes, they do. The survey found that women feel more overworked than men. Now, it's interesting because it doesn't seem to have anything to do with whether or not the women have children. When they analyze the data, they found that the major difference between women and men was that women reported more multi-tasking on the job, and more interruptions in their workday, and that these were the things that were associated with overwork.

Question from chat room: Why do so many work 50 or more hours a week? Is it for the money or do they just generally have that much work to do?

Kathy Slobogin: Well, of course there are a variety of reasons. There are people who work long hours for personal reasons, to make more money, for career advancement, or because they just want to do a good job. What the survey found was that those who work long hours for what they called "external reasons," for example, your boss forces you to work long hours, were much more likely to feel overworked than those who worked for personal reasons.

CNN Moderator: How do these results compare with similar studies of say ten years ago?

Kathy Slobogin: They didn't do a survey like this ten years ago; however, the surveys that they have done have shown that the work week for American workers has been creeping up. What's interesting is that this is counter to the trend in other industrialized nations. The United Nations last year released a report that found that U.S. workers put in more hours on the job than any workers in any industrialized nation. In fact, compared to the next-closest country, Japan, American workers work nearly two full weeks more a year.

Question from chat room: I am curious if people working long hours in cottage industries where they love what they do and are working for themselves show the same stress?

Kathy Slobogin: The survey didn't break out people working for themselves. In fact, it just included people who worked for employers. However, since it found that people who work for personal reasons are less likely to feel overworked, one would assume that self-employed people are not as likely to feel overworked.

Question from chat room: What can we do to reduce work stress?

Kathy Slobogin: The survey didn't address what employees can do; however, survey researchers hope that this will be a clarion call to businesses, because of the bottom-line implications. If businesses see that overworked employees are going to make more mistakes on the job, are going to utilize the health-care system more frequently, and are more likely to look for new jobs, then it's the hope of the researchers that business will do something about the problem of overwork.

CNN Moderator: Why does American culture support and encourage this workaholic mentality? Why isn't there a backlash?

Kathy Slobogin: Certainly, our economy has gone through a lot of downsizing, which means our productivity is up, and we have one of the most competitive economies in the world. But it's a good question, why the U.S. is moving in this direction, when the rest of the industrialized world seems to be stabilizing their work hours, or even decreasing them.

Question from chat room: Is there a particular group over another that works extra long hours, for instance, those paid by the hour vs. salaried workers?

Kathy Slobogin: The survey found overwork at all levels. Managerial people tended to feel more overworked. As I mentioned before, women felt more overworked. And also, baby-boomers felt more overworked than Gen-X'ers or older workers.

Question from chat room: How do you know if what you feel is stress?

Kathy Slobogin: To extrapolate from this study, if you are experiencing a lot of work-family conflict, if you feel negative effects on your health, if you are neglecting your health, losing sleep, having trouble focusing at work, perhaps making mistakes on the job, these are all things that this survey found were associated with feeling overworked.

CNN Moderator: Do you have any final thoughts to share with us?

Kathy Slobogin: One of the things I found interesting was that overwork doesn't just affect the employee or business. It also affects the families of workers. The Families and Work Institute, which released this survey, conducted a survey last year, where they asked children, "What is the one thing you would most like to change about your parents' work life?" The most frequent response was that they wished their parents were less tired and less stressed from their jobs.

CNN Moderator: Thank you for joining us today.

Kathy Slobogin: Thanks for joining us, and I hope you all aren't over-worked!

Kathy Slobogin joined the chat room via telephone from Washington, DC and provided a typist. The above is an edited transcript of the interview on Wednesday, May 16, 2001 at 11:30 a.m. EDT.

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