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BUSINESS PULSE: A SPECIAL REPORT : WORKPLACE : 40-Hour Week Is Part Time to Those on the Fast Track : Workday: 47% of poll respondents report that they regularly put in long days at work.

May 22, 1990|LESLIE BERKMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kevin Benham, a self-employed Westminster electrician, starts his workday at 6 a.m. and sometimes doesn't quit until 9 p.m. He hasn't had a vacation in four years.

Since he is a single parent, his mother takes care of his 4-year-old daughter most of the day. Often, Benham sees the child only a few minutes before she is put to bed.

For his efforts, he is handsomely compensated. Benham earns about $100,000 a year.

His story is not unique. A workaholic work ethic appears to be deeply ingrained in Orange County employees.

The Times Orange County Poll on workplace issues found that 47% of the workers surveyed work on average more than 40 hours a week. A quarter of them said they typically work more than 50 hours each week

"This shows a very real picture of what Orange County employees are all about," said Mark Baldassare, whose firm conducted the poll of 600 workers. "They are a group of men and women who opt for the fast track, and many put in incredibly long hours at work."

The reality of work in Orange County sometimes contrasts sharply with the image of the county that many outsiders have as a laid-back resort area where sunglass-clad folks laze at the beach and enjoy the palm trees, sunshine and ocean breezes.

"Through a window it looks great," Jone Pearce, an associate professor at the UC Irvine Graduate School of Management, said of the county's inviting scenery that few have time to explore.

Hugh Saddington, managing partner of Hugh M. Saddington & Co., an Irvine accounting firm, said business associates in New York and Japan are frequently surprised to learn what long days the firm's accountants work.

Workplace experts said longer workdays are a nationwide trend. They said there is greater competition in the work force with the entry of the large baby boom population, coupled with increased participation by women.

Also, they pointed out that workers are being urged to boost their productivity to respond to business competition overseas. And staff trimming by American companies to become leaner is forcing those employees who keep their jobs to increase their responsibilities.

Because of foreign competition, "we may now have to go through a period of long, hard hours that was characteristic at the turn of the century," said Dennis Aigner, dean of the UCI's management graduate school.

In Orange County, the dedication to work may be magnified by a large number of self-employed entrepreneurs who are struggling to get new businesses launched, the high proportion of residents in such professions as law and accounting that traditionally have demanded long hours, and by the presence of very competitive industries such as electronics and biotechnology.

"In Orange County, you have a lot of management and professional people who by nature are more competitive," said Robert Lewis, a clinical psychologist and owner of the Job Stress Clinic, a private clinic with offices in Santa Ana and Long Beach.

"It is a very competitive society, and when you get a lot of yuppie-type people wanting to scramble to the top, there is a feeling if you slow down you will get lost in the race," he said.

Among management and professional people surveyed in the Times Poll, 57% said they worked longer than 40 hours a week, contrasted with 29% of clerical and sales employees and 33% of blue-collar workers.

Also, 58% of all workers who were polled--including 64% of the men and 52% of the women--said they would prefer a "fast track" with less flexible hours but more opportunity for promotion than a "slow track" with more flexible hours but less opportunity for promotion.

The allure of the fast track, however, declines with age. While 74% of workers in their early careers prefer the quick climb, that falls to 49% for those in the advanced stages of their careers.

Hard-driving workers seem to be everywhere. At the fore are entrepreneurs and company officers with a stake in the action.

Mark Troisi, 21, of Irvine used to work about 55 hours a week as a shipping clerk just to make ends meet. Now he is starting a business of his own--selling air and water filters to homeowners--on $20,000 from an inheritance. He is working harder than ever.

To make a success of the venture, Troisi said, he expects to work 12 to 15 hours a day. He enjoys working, he said, and building his own future gives him special motivation.

"Whereas before my pay was set regardless of how hard I worked," he said, "now the more I put into it, the more I get out of it."

Charlotte Hampton, 43, president of a small packaging sales and distribution company in Newport Beach, said she relishes the variety of her responsibilities, some of which would be delegated to others in a large corporation.

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