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Are long work hours bad for you? Large-scale study says no

July 1, 2003

For more information, contact: Benjamin Haimowitz,

Recent rises in unemployment notwithstanding, Americans spend more time at work than residents of most other industrialized countries. It has become something of a cliche, in fact, that Americans spend too much time on the job and sacrifice quality of life as a result.

But a study presented at the Academy of Management 2003 annual meeting by Daniel C. Ganster and Collette Bates of the University of Arkansas suggests otherwise. The Academy is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching.

Analyzing data from a national survey of more than 3,500 adults, Ganster and Bates conclude that "the number of hours worked has very small or non-existent effects on life satisfaction, sick days, and stress systems...It appears that high-quality work and supportive workplace cultures are much more important determinants of general well-being than work hours."

Findings include the following:

-- Number of hours worked have only a negligible effect, of about 1%, on general life satisfaction. This was true for married and single respondents alike and was little affected by number of children.

-- Work hours do show moderate effects on job stress and family life, with longer hours accounting for a 4% increase in job stress and a 6% increase in interference with family life.

-- Far more important than quantity of work was quality, measured in terms of job pressure, freedom to make decisions, and learning opportunities. In combination, they account for about a 12% difference in life satisfaction and a 7% difference in stress symptoms.

--Also important was what the authors call scheduling support, referring to employers' sensitivity to individual needs and flexibility in meeting them; it accounts for a 12% difference in life satisfaction and 8% difference in stress symptoms.

In sum, Ganster and Bates conclude, "If one's goal is to enhance individual well-being, then it seems that emphasizing what happens in the work place should be the priority rather than worrying how much time one spends there."

The Academy of Management, founded in 1936, is the largest organization in the world devoted to management research and teaching. It has over 13,000 members in 90 countries, including some 9,000 in the United States. The academy's 2003 annual meeting, Aug. 3-6, drew some 6,000 scholars and practitioners to Seattle for more than 1,000 sessions on a host of issues relating to corporate organization, the workplace, technology development, and other management-related subjects

Media Coverage:
Los Angeles Times. With work-related stress, longer hours on the job might not to blame. (Monday, September 08, 2003).
Public Radio International. Marketplace. Commentary: Counterarguments to study on work hours and job satisfaction. (Thursday, July 31, 2003).

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