Stressed Britons work too hard, too long

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The Independent Online
Increasing stress among British workers is caused by harder work, longer hours and increased responsibilities rather than some vague psychological condition.

A study published yesterday found that nearly half of all employees are expected to put in extra hours, but only 30 per cent of it is paid.

Nearly four out of ten respondents to a survey conducted by the charitably- funded Global Futures organisation, have had their contracts chang-ed since starting their job, usually by an employer imposing higher targets and longer hours.

Global Futures, which conducts research into the impact of demographic and economic change on people's attitudes to work, found that most working people were resigned to an insecure future.

However, trades unions do not seem to have been a beneficiary of the tougher regimes in the workplace. Interviewees were three times more likely to turn to their manager to sort out work problems than a union representative.

Particularly worrying for the labour movement is that only 2 per cent of those under the age of 25 thought union representatives were worth consulting over employment difficult- ies. Less than a quarter of the younger employees were union members, compared with around half of the whole workforce.

Alan Hudson, author of the report, said stress at work was often treated as if it were a psychological condition with a life of its own.

"Our findings shows there is no mystery about the causes of stress. The dramatic changes in the workplace over the last decade have left people working longer and harder with more responsibilities. If people are ill, it is probably more to do with these extra pressures than any psychological factors."

The survey found that there was a preoccupation with training and education among respondents and that attitudes to quality had undergone a "transformation".

Many workplaces had introduced "customer-orientated" practices and "total quality management". Two-thirds of respondents said they were increasingly involved in decision-making, while 85 per cent said they felt personally responsible all the time for the work they do.

In 1,000 interviews with employees, conducted between October 1994 and February 1995, Mr Hudson found that nearly three-quarters of the workforce was now expected to cover for absent colleagues, although nearly half accept the responsibility.

Fewer than one in ten people goes out with workmates more than once a week. A third go out with them once every three months and more than one in ten never do. The author reports that leisure time has become much more individualised than it was, reflecting the growth in family- orientated pursuits.