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Office Staff Feeling Overworked

March 31, 2008

Eighty-four percent of clerical and technical employees say that unrealistic workloads are a concern at their college, and nearly that many report their quality of work suffers as a result, according to a survey from the American Federation of Teachers.

The group's "Office Employee Workload Survey," presented Friday at the AFT-National Education Association Higher Education Conference, looked at 638 responses, 155 of which came from college employees, most of whom are from community colleges. (The report notes that the Web-based, self-selecting survey shouldn't be viewed as scientifically accurate, but rather as illustrating broad workload issues.)

Of all respondents, which include K-12 employees, nearly one in five report never taking a break during the work day, and three in five say they don't get all of their contractual breaks. More than three in four college employees work past their regular hours at least one day a week without overtime pay, with about 20 percent saying that happens five days a week. Twenty-five percent report working 30 to 60 minutes daily outside of their regularly scheduled hours, and 17 percent say it's typically an hour daily over that schedule.

Increased paperwork, reduced/improper staffing levels and continuous restructuring of work are the factors most often cited by all respondents that lead to "unfair" workloads. For colleges, reduced staffing levels is the most significant factor, followed by improper staffing and no hiring of replacements. Thirty-four percent of college employees report that their institutions hire temporary non-bargaining unit employees as a response to workload concerns.

Patricia Olshefski, director of the AFT's division for support staff, said that's problematic not only from a union organizing point of view, but also from the standpoint of staff morale and productivity. "We have to make the case better that the quality of what an institution does suffers because of quick turnover of staff," she said.

The majority of college employees surveyed say they are feeling increased stress and tension with co-workers as a result of the demanding workload. More than half agree that their ability to control the quality of their work has been "substantially reduced," while 22 percent say it's "greatly reduced."

Employees who are 30 or younger are the least likely of any age group to report that their "unrealistic" workload is problematic -- though 64 percent still said so. That cohort was also the least likely to know about contract language regarding workload, and whether its union was doing anything to respond to workload complaints.

Several audience members who represented colleges at the meeting said their experience is that younger employees are hesitant to either join a union or keep up on negotiation discussions. One person offered the explanation that more and more of the young staff now are college graduates -- well over half surveyed had either a two- or four-year degree -- who come with the mindset that putting in extra hours without compensation is an expected part of professional life.

Another said that the young employees aren't motivated to be involved with a union's workload campaign because they are only staying at a job a short time. Olshefski said that trend can also work as an advantage.

"[Young workers] can say, 'I'm not going to be here in 5 years, so I can challenge my boss,' " she said.

AFT Office Employee Workload Survey

        Employee Response
Excessive workloads are…        
Widespread throughout my district/college 70%    
Only a problem in a few departments 21.5    
Only a problem for a few people   3.1    
Not a big problem     0.8    
No answer     4.6    
             
How much time do you spend daily completing work outside of your regularly scheduled hours?  
15 to 30 minutes     23.1%    
30 minutes to 1 hour     25.4    
More than 1 hour     16.9    
Unsure       33.8    
No answer     0.8    
             
Do you receive overtime pay for this work?    
Always       15.4%    
Usually       8.5    
Sometimes     23.1    
Never       52.3    
No Answer     0.8    

Source: American Federation of Teachers

 

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