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Overtime Junkies, Supervisors and the Toll They Take

That some Americans still welcome overtime may come as a surprise, given chronic national wailing about how work hinders their lifestyle.

Cornell University’s new Institute for Workplace Studies in New York City has uncovered a segment of workers who want to work more. As part of a larger study, the institute interviewed, then surveyed 4,278 unionized hourly workers in the Northeast about their attitudes toward overtime, according to the institute’s Peter Bamberger, senior research associate, and a faculty member at Technion Israel Institute of Technology.

More than 71 percent are men and more than 28 percent are women. Most (75-plus percent) are 30 to 54 years old and work in a range of industries. More than 10 percent are younger; over 13 percent are older. Telling results about overtime unfold in Cornell’s report, titled “Overtime and the American Worker.”

The workers earned an average of $42,000 per year, including overtime, in 1998. Note the variation by occupation:

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– $51,500, construction and railroad workers, including railroad engineers and dispatchers;

– $46,000, utility workers, such as call-center personnel, meter-readers and skilled trades people;

– $45,000, automotive workers, including unskilled production workers, semi-skilled machinists and skilled trade workers;

– $38,500, mail sorters;

– $37,500, emergency medical service technicians, such as paramedics and ambulance drivers;

– $27,000, retail salespeople, and stock and warehouse workers;

– $24,500, nursing home workers, almost all nurse’s aides.

The study found that the workers average 6.63 hours of overtime each week, with great variances from industry to industry and by individual. In one month, only 60 percent of workers had used overtime. Slices of the overtime pie vary, prompting coworkers to create labels of “overtime junkies” and “overtime hogs” for the ones who keep going back for more.

Overall, 36 percent of the group are happy with their overtime, while 46 percent want more. What drives these workers to seek more work? Personal choice, primarily, not overbearing bosses, Cornell found.

Approximately two- thirds don’t feel pressured into overtime by supervisors, while approximately one-fifth sense moderate to high pressure to take on the extra work. Cornell learned that job insecurity and financial strain motivate workers to want overtime. Research also found that workers in larger families tend to look favorably upon overtime.

That the number of jobs in most of the occupations studied is declining is well known. In that regard, using overtime to diminish job insecurity is like plugging the dike. Many of the workers are earning reasonable wages, particularly if they’re in two-income households, suggesting that the consumer mentality is alive and well in this population, just as it is among salaried workers.

So it seems whether you’re hourly and eligible for overtime or high-salaried and living luxuriously, you may be barely able to maintain spending at the rate of earning.

One prime-time television network news broadcast estimated an average $900 Christmas shopping extravaganza per person. It also featured a man enthusing, “We’ve worked all year for this.” In some countries, $900 could feed a person for an entire year.

Increased opportunities for overtime unite people throughout the workplace by contributing to the national addiction for making and spending money. What are the hidden consequences? Valerie McKinney, the institute’s assistant director, cites increased personal toll brought by overtime.

“Overtime issues impact people financially and emotionally, creating work and family conflict and contributing to ‘job-escape drinking,'” she states.

Samuel Bacharach, director of the institute, pinpoints one hidden cost of overtime: “The tragedy is that people don’t quite see the non-economic price of overtime. The quality of work goes down.”

Cornell’s research findings indicate that unionized workers are suffering from the same malaise widely known to affect other workers in the country. People undertake jobs at any level to make money, to ease their financial strain , a goal that may prove elusive as expectations rise. In most cases, a mentality that exacts personal toll, undermines work and undervalues the workplace is ultimately defeating.

For a free copy of “Overtime and the American Worker,” contact Nadine Lomakin, Institute for Workplace Studies, at (212) 340-2896 or (nal6@cornell.edu).

Culp sponsors the annual WorkWise Award. For more information, visit (www.work- wise.com).

& #352;2000 Universal Press Syndicate


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