Why do 20% of Americans consider their workplace to be an office hell? | Arwa Mahdawi

One in five workers say they face a hostile or threatening environment at work, according to one of the most in-depth studies of its kind. Thats alarming

What do you do? Its one of the first questions youre asked when you meet someone new. In a capitalist society, what you do is who you are. Your occupation is a quick way to establish your relative place in the world; to size up your comparative worth. And so work plays a highly important part in many of our lives.

According to a recent study, however, it also plays a highly detrimental part in many of our lives: work is making many Americans very miserable indeed. A massive 20% of workers say they face hostile or threatening environments at work, according to the American Working Conditions Survey, one of the most in-depth studies of its kind. This hostility can take a number of forms, including sexual harassment and verbal bullying.

Not only are many Americans working in harmful environments, but work is taking up unhealthy amounts of our personal time. The study of 3,066 US workers by the Rand Corp, Harvard Medical School and the University of California, Los Angeles, found that 50% of respondents have to work in their free time in order to meet the demands of their job and 10% do so nearly every day.

And while we hear a lot about technology prompting a rise in flexible working, according to the research, most workers have very little control over how, when and where they work. A full 78% of respondents are required to be in their workplace during work hours and one in three said they had no control over their schedule.

The rather bleak results of the study apparently came as some surprise to the researchers involved, who noted that the number of Americans working in a hostile environment was disturbingly high. But while the researchers expressed shock at the statistics, they didnt really go into any solutions.

So how do we fix this? How do we make American workplaces less miserable places to be?

Well, the first thing to do, the results of this study would seem to suggest, is recognize that the problem is systemic. When so many Americans are unhappy at work, its hard to dismiss the problem as simply the fault of a few nasty bosses or overly sensitive employees.

But acknowledging that anything is systemic appears to be difficult in America, the land of individual responsibility. If youre poor in America, its your fault: youre not working hard enough. If youre unhappy at work, its your fault: youre not being assertive enough. Go pop a pill or read a business self-help book I hear Ivanka Trump has a good one out.

Its easy to blame things on individuals, of course. Solving the complex systemic problems that factor into Americas miserable workplaces, on the other hand, is hard. Take, for example, diversity and inclusion. While America is an incredibly diverse place, many workplaces are still geared around the wants and needs of white men.

Further, many of the diversity initiatives that big companies have implemented have been incredibly myopic: focusing on trying to hire more diverse bodies without looking at ways of creating a workplace culture that will allow these people to thrive. From 2014-2016, Google spent $265m on diversity, for example. However, in 2016, only 2% of Googles employees were black the same percentage as in 2014.

And then theres health insurance. While it wasnt covered in the research study, its my theory that the crippling cost of health insurance in America plays a large role in workplace unhappiness.

Being reliant on your employer for health insurance means youre more likely to stay in a job you hate or suffer from burnout: you simply cant afford to take time out or take a risk and start your own company or go freelance. I say this as a freelancer who quit my own full-time job in advertising last year after feeling burned out.

While its great to be master of my own time, Ive quickly realized just how much of a luxury this is. Im youngish and healthy, with no pre-existing conditions, and yet I can barely afford health insurance as a freelancer.

I pay about $425 a month for the lowest tier of Oscar health insurance, which has a $7,500 deductible. Its not really health insurance at all its catastrophe insurance. Its also hard to budget for health insurance: when I first signed up for Oscar, last year, my monthly bills were $361; they increased almost 18% in one year. The enormous cost of striking out on your own may be one reason that US entrepreneurship is near a 40-year-low and entrepreneurs tend to come from wealthy families.

Ultimately, however, discussions of workplace happiness may soon be moot thanks to the fact that a growing number of jobs are becoming automated. In 20 years, the world of work will have changed drastically and the question of what do you do may well have become obsolete.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/aug/17/why-do-20-of-americans-consider-their-workplace-to-be-an-office-hell