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Stress takes its toll on office staff

Office staff are working harder than ever, swamped under piles of mail, plagued by unwanted telephone calls, and have seen their lunch breaks cut to just 20 minutes, according to a survey published today.

White-collar staff are moving towards a Japanese-style working week of 12-hour days and work-filled evenings, it said.

The stress from all these pressures could be "potentially extremely harmful" if it is not understood and controlled, the survey concluded.

Home life could also suffer, with people on average spending five years of their lives reading and writing letters, four years commuting, three years on the phone - but only 10 months talking to their families.

The survey of managers, conducted by pyschologist Dr David Lewis, showed that:

q a total of 84 per cent reported that greater demands were being made on their time than two years ago;

q the average lunch break was 20 minutes;

q only six minutes a day are spent going to the lavatory;

q the most hectic day was Monday, according to 62 per cent, while 58 per cent said it was the day they most disliked;

q unscheduled phone calls, unexpected visitors and junk mail were the worst irritants.

Downsizing, mergers and recession-induced cost-cutting were seen as the main reasons for the increase in working hours and the greater workload.

"To tackle and prevent the growing problem of stress, employers and employees alike must first acknowledge the concept of stress and then learn to recognise its symptoms,," Dr Lewis said.