Inside looking out: Woes of the workaholic
“To suffer fifty weeks of the year for the sake of a two-week vacation, when all you really desire is to be outdoors with your shirt off. And always to have to get ahead of the next fella. And still — that’s how you build a future.”
Biff Loman said these words in Arthur Miller’s play, “Death of a Salesman.”
Whether Americans “suffer” by working too much can be debated, but the statistics that confirm how much time we are on the job are quite alarming. According to G.F. Miller in his article from “Something Finance,” at least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the workweek, but not in the U.S., where 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work more than 40 hours per week. 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.
Miller also reports that according to the Center for American Progress on the topic of work and family time balance, “In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed. When all adults are working (single or with a partner), that’s a huge hit to the American family and compromises their personal relationships.”
The U.S. is the only country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave program. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave and over 20 weeks in Europe.
Americans do take their vacations, but Reuters News Service correspondent Lynn Parramore states that many must keep working through public holidays, and vacation days often go unused. Even when we finally carve out a vacation, many of us answer emails and check in the office whether we’re camping with the kids or trying to kick back on the beach.
With job security always at risk and the pressure we put on ourselves to buy that new car or that big house or pay for the kid’s college education, we spend much more time away from home than in the 20th century when mom took care of the domestic duties and dad came home every day at 5:30.
Parramore also says studies show that overworking reduces productivity. On the other hand, performance increases after a vacation, and workers come back with restored energy and focus. The longer the vacation, the more relaxed and energized people feel upon returning to the office.
Other consequences of overworking are even more significant. Kids grow up hardly knowing their parents who leave for work at 7 a.m. and return home late in the evening. Ironically, the house with the mortgage has no one in it most of the time because the kids are in school while parents work overtime.
I recall someone saying to me that after working 70-hour weeks all he had time to do when he came home was to look at all the things he bought with the money he was making. He often missed his kid’s baseball games. He arrived late to his daughter’s recital and much time spent with his wife was quarreling over bills and the cost of this and the cost of that.
A father I met said he and his adult son were strangers to each other. The man owned a business and worked 80-hour weeks and even slept overnight there. He sadly told me he was “that” father in Harry Chapin’s song. “The Cat’s in the Cradle.”
“And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon. Little boy blue and the man in the moon. When you coming home, Dad? I don’t know when. But we’ll get together then. You know we’ll have a good time then.”
There are those who love their jobs more than being at home and those who strive to pay for lifestyles beyond their means, and many middle class families of four or more are drowning in credit card debt despite parents working multiple jobs.
Miller writes that for many of us, more work leads to more stress and a lower quality of life. Without time to unwind, we don’t take care of our homes, spend time with loved ones, enjoy our hobbies, connect with friends, and generally live a more balanced life. Stress is the number one cause of health problems — mentally and physically. And there are few things that stress us out on a consistent basis like work does, especially when it takes away from all of the other things that life has to offer.
A friend who owns a contracting business told me he works seven days a week. At a moment of self-reflection, he said he’d rather live in a smaller house, drive an older truck and have the time to sit on the porch, drink beer and eat barbecue every weekend.
Kiddingly, he said that he needs therapy for his addiction to working too much. After all, who on their deathbed will say, “I should have worked more overtime!” His remarks make me wonder if there’s a program for over workers like Alcoholics Anonymous is for over drinkers.
“Hi, my name is Tom. I’m a workaholic,” he would say at the first meeting.
Never mind. He wouldn’t get there. He’d be too busy working.
Rich Strack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.