Sunday, September 15, 2002 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Job Market

U.S. workers in time crunch

The Denver Post

Bill Gwaltney leaves his home before 6 a.m. most days to catch the bus, and doesn't return until 6:30 each night — usually with a full briefcase.

"I've got so much to take home," says Gwaltney of Englewood, Colo., who logs 60 to 70 hours a week trying to recruit and retain park rangers for the National Park Service.

"If I thought it was too much work, I wouldn't do it," says Gwaltney, 47, a father of two. "It's important. Everyone I work with works just as hard or harder."

That type of work ethic has become epidemic.

Whether Americans like their jobs or not, they're spending more time working and less time with family and relaxing.

Americans spend an average of 1,900 hours a year at work (or 237.5 days), according to the U.S. Census Bureau. While that might not sound all that high — the equivalent of 47-1/2 40-hour weeks — that's 20 more days each year than 25 years ago, and more than any other advanced nation, including Japan — which embodies industrialism.

Americans have fewer vacation and sick days than most of the industrial world. European vacation time averages about six weeks.

The average workweek is longer in part because women are spending more time on the job. Eight of 10 mothers with small children worked full time last year, up from six of 10 mothers three decades ago.

Many workers say they would work less and relax more, but they don't because they fear repercussions. Some are afraid of getting fired. Others need overtime pay to make ends meet.

Salaried workers often feel "that if they want to move up the ladder, they have to work more hours," said Heather Boushey, economist with the Economic Policy Institute.

Pressures have been heightened in the weak economy. Layoffs and hiring freezes have compelled some employees to work harder and longer to avoid being next out the door.

Richard Ryan, a clinical psychologist and professor at the University of Rochester, says companies are ignoring the long-term consequences of workers' stress and long hours.

"We're always looking at the short-term goal," he said. "If I'm the manager with a deadline, I want to get it done."

Those ways of working — for the immediate pay-off — result in turnover, absenteeism and stress that leads to mistakes at work and negative attitudes that are conveyed to customers, he says.

Seattle television producer John de Graaf remembers when academics in the 1960s worried about how future generations would cope with excess leisure time they presumed would result from technological innovation.

Then the opposite happened. Cellphones and e-mail made people accessible around the clock, anywhere they went. Work goes everywhere people do, says de Graaf, co-author of "Affluenza," a book about how Americans exhaust themselves in the pursuit of more stuff.

De Graaf is making plans to change that.

He'll announce next spring "Take Back Your Time Day," scheduled for Oct. 24, 2003. That date marks nine weeks until the end of the year, which is the difference in annual work between Americans and Europeans.


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