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Workaholics: Living the American Way

12 Oct

I know that it may be a bit in poor taste to complain about a job during times like these. With Georgia’s unemployment rate as of July at 10.1%, having a job, let alone a well-paying job, is something to covet. But working or having some sort of job doesn’t necessarily mean that your standard of living is being improved or even that you can pay the bills. Many of us realize that the American way often means living paycheck to paycheck and sacrificing those few off days just to remain caught up at work.

I write this as a general observation of Americans and our society as well as a way to put our life and lifestyles into perspective. Compared to other countries, we are certifiable workaholics. In a 2010 article by G.E. Miller titled, The U.S. is the Most Overworked Developed Nation in the World – When do we Draw the Line? he reminds us to not let “life pass you by in the name of fear, circumstance, greed, or misguided hopes.”  Just think, when it comes to work-life balance, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation without a national paid parental leave benefit. “The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe.” As many of you already know, what that means is that if you have a child and you want to be off from work for an extended period, unless you have benefit time, you’ll be doing so without a paycheck.

Most Americans work more than 40 hours per week. In addition, at least “134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of a work week.” The U.S. does not. And according to the International Labour Organization (ILO) Americans work “137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” These numbers are disturbing and discouraging considering the U.S. has no federal law requiring paid sick days thereby making it the “only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave.” That’s even sadder when you consider that “in every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 [holidays]/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days. In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.” Conversely, as statistics show that American productivity has drastically increased since the 1950s, why is it that our nation is economically depressed, stressed, and downright exhausted?

The American way of life often means living paycheck to paycheck, spending above our means, and being obese. We spend more time in the office, thinking about the office, and traveling to the office than we do at home, with friends and family, and in doing the things that enrich and extend our lives. Stress can kill, and in my experience stress can bring on a host of other physical and mental problems. These too, as is often reported, can shorten one’s life expectancy. We work hard and it seems the rewards often mean bad eating habits that lead to stress that leads to stress eating which then leads to obesity and health issues that are caused by obesity.

It isn’t wrong to sometimes do more with less. Sometimes you have to take the less stressful and even lower paying job just to find peace of mind and body. There’s only one you and if you work yourself into the ground hoping to reach the ever-fleeting retirement benefits line, your priorities may be a bit out of sorts. Pensions are a thing of the past. Retirement benefits are like us buying into a promise, and as we’ve seen, like any promise it too can be broken. I don’t even think about Social Security benefits as I feel that when I’m of age, assuming they don’t change it to 70 or 75, it won’t be around. It’s like the saying goes, nothing is certain but death and taxes. And as Margaret Mitchell writes in Gone with the Wind, “there’s never any convenient time for any of them.” That’s certainly true if you’re an American.

Sometimes we just need to take a break. Common is the sentiment of “well, that’s just more work for me to have to do later” or alternately, “I know I have benefit time but I need to be at work.” We may never be like other countries with mandated leave, but it doesn’t change the fact that we do need to be less work-crazed and be more life-crazed. There’s a culturally imposed stigma that perpetuates the fear that if we’re not always at our workstation then we’re easily expendable, that we don’t do enough, or that our jobs must be easy. Even if you can’t afford to be off, when you are, enjoy it. For those with benefit time, use it. You earned it. My boss often tells me, “the work will be here tomorrow.” Simple but true. Yes, dear Scarlett, “After all… tomorrow is another day.”

This article appeared on page 5A in the 10/12/11 issue of The Union-Recorder.

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