Consumed by work

Toil: America's salaried workers are spending more and more hours on the job, and many find that is detracting from the quality of their lives.

Orlando Sentinel

November 12, 2003|By Harry Wessel | Harry Wessel,ORLANDO SENTINEL

Janet Gartland loves her job, but not the hours. A logistics coordinator with Siemens Westinghouse Power Corp. in Orlando, Fla., she regularly puts in 11- and 12-hour days, which translate into 55- to 60-hour weeks.

Working that many hours week after week, "you tend to be more irritable, more frustrated," said Gartland, who has been with Siemens for eight years. "Things that don't normally bother you, bother you. You're on the edge all the time."

She's not complaining. Gartland prefers being on edge to being bored, and her "multitasking, fast-paced" job is anything but boring.

Nevertheless, she said, "I'd love to go to an eight-hour day."

So would millions of other full-time workers who seldom if ever have a 40-hour workweek.

"Americans work more hours by far than any other workers in the [industrialized] world," said Benjamin Balak, who teaches economic history at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla. "If you want to be a high-income wage earner, you have to work like a dog. If you want leisure in today's economy, you'll be stuck in a low-income job. It's income or leisure."

For many if not most professionals today, Balak said, working more than 40 hours a week "is expected. You don't have an option."

Recent government surveys appear to contradict Balak. They show that the number of weekly hours put in by full-time workers has remained virtually unchanged since the mid-1970s: 43 hours then, 42.9 hours now. But there is more to it than meets the eye, because the surveys include salaried and hourly workers. An unpublished Bureau of Labor Statistics study finds that those in administrative, managerial and executive occupations spent an average of 45 hours at work each week last year.

Hourly workers, who must by law be paid time-and-a-half for overtime, tend to work about 40 hours a week, just as they did in the 1970s. It's among the growing number of salaried workers - who aren't eligible for overtime - that the extra hours are largely being worked.

About 50 million U.S. employees are not eligible for overtime; about 71 million are eligible.

The 65-year-old Fair Labor Standards Act, which established the 40-hour workweek as a national norm, did so largely by requiring companies to pay employees at least time-and-a-half when workers clock more than 40 weekly hours.

The law protected production and nonsupervisory workers, not managers or professionals. With the subsequent decline in manufacturing jobs, the percentage of workers eligible for overtime pay has dropped.

Another reason the government's published data might be misleading is that they measure only hours on the job, said Randy Ilg, an economist with the Bureau of Labor Statistics in Washington. The data do not include night and weekend hours spent handling work-related e-mails, phone calls and paperwork from home, work made even easier with the widespread use of laptop computers and cellular phones.

"The number of professionals and managers is growing," Ilg said. "The percentage of people working off the clock is growing."

There is another shift the government's hours-worked surveys do not take into account - the increased number of dual-income households.

"If you look at family work hours, you see really dramatic changes," said Jared Bernstein, senior economist with the Economic Policy Institute in Washington. "Over the last 30 years, middle-income couples with kids have added an average of 20 weeks of work, the equivalent of five more months a year."

In other words, fathers who worked a lot of hours before are still working a lot of hours. But mothers who used to stay at home or work part time are now far more likely to be working full time, as well.

"That's what explains people feeling stressed," said Bernstein. "Middle-income families are running faster to stay in place."

A 1997 survey by the nonprofit Families and Work Institute found that employed fathers with children worked an average of 50.9 hours a week, while employed mothers with children worked an average of 41.4 hours a week. Compared with a similar survey in 1977, that represented a 3.1-hour weekly increase for working dads and a five-hour weekly increase for working moms.

Balak, the Rollins College economist, said the increase in work hours since the mid-1970s has been among white-collar professionals. "People who were working eight hours a day then are still working eight hours a day. But people who were working more then, professionals and such, are working even more now."

Some are resisting. Attorney Stefanie Jancewicz knows she could be making more money and doing more for her career if she worked longer hours for a larger law firm. Instead, she works 45 to 50 hours a week for a small Kissimmee, Fla., law firm, Mullins & DeNike.

Jancewicz has two young children and a husband who works more hours than she does. "There's not enough of me to go around," said Jancewicz, 34. "I don't begrudge my job or my kids, but it's hard to do both."

Her firm lets her come and go as she pleases, giving her the flexibility to be with her children when she needs to be. But flexibility goes only so far. She doesn't have time during the week to do household chores or errands, making her weekends as hectic as her weekdays.

She'd like to work fewer hours, but only because of her family duties. When her children are older, she expects to work more. She might want to teach law or become a judge. "There are more things I want to do when my kids don't need as much of my time. I don't want to deprive them now. Inevitably, I will spend more time at work," she said.

Janet Gartland, the Siemens logistics coordinator, would like to go in the other direction. Forty to 45 hours a week sounds about right to her. But for now, it looks as if her 55-hour weeks will continue.

"I'll keep holding up until I win the lottery," she said. "Then, I'm out of here."

The Orlando Sentinel is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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