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A Disturbing Number of Americans Find Their Workplace Hostile or Threatening

Topics: Data & Research
work stress

Nearly one-fifth of American workers said that their work environment was hostile or threatening, according to a new study from RAND Corp — a “disturbingly high” share, per researchers.

The survey, which examined 3,066 U.S. workers ages 25-71, was conducted in 2015 by RAND Corp, Harvard Medical School and the University of California-Los Angeles. The research is similar to a European study, and the team will eventually use the findings from a repeat study to compare U.S. and European work environments.

Among the other findings from the U.S. study:

  • About half of respondents said that they must work on their own time, after working hours, to meet their job requirements.
  • Nearly three-quarters spent at least a fourth of their time engaged in “intense or repetitive physical labor.”
  • Only 38 percent felt that their job offered good potential for advancement. Older workers were less likely to say so than younger workers.
  • One in four workers said they have too little time to do their job, and two-thirds worked under tight deadlines.

“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, in a statement. “Work is taxing at the office and it’s taxing when it spills out of the workplace into people’s family lives.”

On the upside, more than half said that their boss was supportive and that they were friends with their coworkers, while nearly four out of five said that their job provided meaning always or most of the time.

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Work Is Hardest for Those Without a College Degree

“Not all of these burdens are equally distributed,” wrote Sarah Kessler at Quartz. “Non-graduate workers, for instance, were more likely to report intense or repetitive physical exertion as well as unpleasant and potentially hazardous working conditions. They were less likely to control their own schedules, and more than one in five non-college-graduate, prime-age workers (age 35–49) were subject to frequent changes to their work schedules.”

Sixty-eight percent of men without college degrees spent at least a fourth of their working time moving heavy loads, according to the survey results, while fewer than half could take a break when they chose.

Speaking with the Associated Press, Maestas speculated that “toxic” working conditions might be keeping Americans out of the labor force.

“There’s a message for employers here,” Maestas said. “Working conditions really do matter.”

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Jen Hubley Luckwaldt
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