The good news for many American workers can be summed up in one word: more. They are enjoying more job satisfaction, experiencing more workplace autonomy, and finding more support for family and personal needs.
Yet "more" also describes the bad news: Employees are spending more hours at work, enduring more stress, and feeling more anxiety about possibly losing their jobs.
Those are among the findings of a landmark study released yesterday by the Families and Work Institute in New York. Based on extensive interviews with 3,000 wage and salaried workers, the National Study of the Changing Workforce also draws on a 1977 US Department of Labor survey to explore 20-year trends.
Ellen Galinsky, president of the nonprofit institute and coauthor of the report, finds several surprises in the research.
First, she says, "We could see how powerful the job is in affecting not only people's performance at work - their desire to stay, their commitment, loyalty, satisfaction - but also their home life. The job comes home and can affect the mood and energy that people have for home life. Then that bounces back into work again, reducing job performance."
The second surprise for researchers, Ms. Galinsky says, involves the changing role of men. Fathers are spending more time with children - an average of 2.3 hours every workday, up half an hour since 1977. Mothers' time has remained the same, at 3.2 hours a day.
In addition, married men are spending more time on chores - 2.1 hours a day. Although women still do more housework, their time has decreased by about half an hour a day, to just under three hours.
"There are more dust balls in America," Galinsky says.
As a result of fathers' increased family time, children are receiving slightly more attention from working parents than they did 20 years ago. Both men and women are giving up personal time.
Yet Galinsky cautions that researchers did not look at the quality of that added time together. "People might be doing two things at once. It might be very rushed time."
Women also still bear primary responsibility for children's needs. When one parent in a two-career couple must care for a sick child during working hours, four-fifths of mothers say they are more likely than their partners to take time off. Only one-fifth of fathers made the same claim.
Eighty-five percent of employees have day-to-day family responsibilities at home. Nearly 1 in 5 working parents is single, with men accounting for 27 percent of single parents.
Employees are also working more. They average 44 hours a week at their primary jobs, six hours more than they are scheduled to put in. An overwhelming majority say they must work very fast and very hard. Yet three-fifths see their chances for advancement as only fair or poor. Nearly two-thirds would like to work less.
Even so, workers today are more satisfied with their jobs than they were in 1977. They have significantly more autonomy and more opportunities to learn on the job. They are also more likely to find meaning in their work. Two-thirds find it relatively easy to take time off for family or personal matters. And a majority say their supervisors are quite supportive.
For business leaders, Galinsky says, implications of these findings are clear: Those who improve the quality of jobs and the supportiveness of the workplace stand to gain a competitive edge. Even more than the undeniable appeal of wages and benefits, she explains, "It is the human factor in the workplace that differentiates the good jobs from the not-good jobs."