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US workers tell of hard day's plight at the office

Many Americans find their workplace gruelling, stressful and surprisingly hostile, a far-reaching survey has found.

The in-depth study of 3,066 US workers by the Rand Corporation, Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles, has revealed:

:: Nearly one in five workers - a share the study calls "disturbingly high" - say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, which can include sexual harassment and bullying, with workers who have to face customers enduring a disproportionate share of abuse;

:: Nearly 55% say they face "unpleasant and potentially hazardous" conditions;

:: Nearly three quarters say they spend at least a fourth of their time on the job in "intense or repetitive physical" labour - "I was surprised at how physically demanding jobs were," says lead author Nicole Maestas, a Harvard Medical School economist;

:: Telecommuting is rare: 78% say they are required to be present in their workplace during working hours;

:: Only 38% say their jobs offer good prospects for advancement and the older they get, the less optimistic they become;

:: About half say they work in their own time to meet the demands of their job.

The first-time survey of Americans aged 25-71, carried out in 2015, is similar to a long-running European survey.

Researchers plan to conduct another next year and eventually draw comparisons between US and European working conditions.

"Wow - (work) is pretty taxing place for many people," Ms Maestas says.

"I was surprised by how pressured and hectic the workplace is."

In many cases, less-educated workers endure tougher working conditions.

For example, fewer than half of men without college degrees can take a break whenever they want to, compared with more than 76% of men with college degrees.

Likewise, nearly 68% of men without degrees spend at least a fourth of their time moving heavy loads.

Ms Maestas says she wonders whether toxic working conditions are keeping Americans out of the labour force.

The percentage of Americans who are working or looking for work - 62.9 in July - has not returned to pre-recession levels and is well below its 2000 peak of 67.3%.

The unemployment rate is at a 16-year low, and many employers complain they cannot fill jobs.

"There's a message for employers here," Ms Maestas said. "Working conditions really do matter."

But not everything about American workplaces is grim.

Workers enjoy considerable autonomy - more than 80% say they get to solve problems and try out their own ideas. And 58% say their bosses are supportive, and 56% have good friends at work.


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