Archives for workaholism

The Jetsons Predicted the Future of Work, it Never Came

The Jetsons on My Desk by Quasimime of Flickr

The Jetsons on My Desk by Quasimime of Flickr

 

Growing up I remember being inspired and intrigued by The Jetsons, which had an idealistic idea of the future American working culture. The Jetsons boldly proclaimed that in the 21st Century, Americans would work fewer hours and have more leisure time each week. In fact, the biggest crisis on the horizon would be the lack of working time and people not knowing what to do with all of their free time. The leisure-filled utopia predicted by those living in the 1950s and 60s never came to pass. Instead of a predicted 16-to-20 hour work week, Americans now work an average of 47 hours per week.

 

Working longer hours in America

When compared to other cultures, Americans tend to work longer hours and take shorter vacations. The US is also the most overworked developed nation in the world and has recently overtaken Japan in the number of hours worked per year. Working longer hours has had an interesting effect on the economy. The United States is much richer than Europe and has created more wealth because America has a higher population than Europe, and that population works longer hours. Individually, longer hours do not equal more productivity, especially if the number of hours worked extends beyond 50 hours per week. According to a CNBC article, employee output falls drastically after 55 hours per week, and around the 70-hour mark nothing more is produced. Additionally, many salaried employees putting in extra hours at work aren’t paid overtime: those extra hours are essentially “free” for the employer. The downside to employers is employee burnout, absenteeism, and higher turnover rates.

According to a DIT (Dublin Institute of Technology) research report, 1-in-6 US employees now work more than 60 hours per week. The number of American men who regularly work 48 hours per week or more has risen by 20% in the last 25 years. A study by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development stated that Americans are working 20% longer than they did in 1970, while the numbers of hours worked per week has fallen in other industrialized countries. The United States is the only developed country in the world that is not required to provide families with mandatory paid maternity leave, and the Family and Medical Leave Act only covers employees if they’re eligible. When compared with other countries, the situation is so bad that even comedians such as Jon Stewart can’t help but mock it. The Newsroom also addressed the issue, among many others, in a stunning response that debunks the myth of America being the greatest country in the world.

President Obama commented on America’s working culture in late June. “Too many Americans are working long days for less pay than they deserve.” As a result, upcoming changes to federal overtime rules may curb the number of hours salaried employees can work if they make $50,440 or less per year. Either employers will have to pay overtime, or employees will work fewer hours. The changes are expected to affect 5 million workers. The Vanguard Group has already implemented these changes by reclassifying 2,100 of its salaried U.S. employees to hourly employees and the results have been mixed.

 

Americans and vacations

When it comes to days reserved for vacations, American culture falls behind the rest of the developed world. Compared to other countries, Americans receive an average of 14 paid vacation days per year, while France tops out at 39, the UK receives 24 days, and even Canada enjoys an average of 19 days. In some countries vacation days are mandated by law. So why do Americans work so hard and take so few vacations? The reasons are numerous and complex. A Wharton article points out that despite employees’ willingness to accept less pay for more vacation time, hours have been creeping higher for salaried workers. Employees are being asked to work longer hours because it’s cheaper than hiring new workers and unions aren’t instituted in many sectors to protest this practice. People also refuse vacations because they want to get ahead in the workplace and fear being replaced if they take all of their time off. Others fear that work won’t function without them.

The Wharton article also states that Americans’ self-worth is tied to being able to earn more and to spend more. This means bigger homes, more vacation homes, and bigger cars than European counterparts. Additionally, workaholism is a point of pride in our culture, and even while on vacation, workers still engage with the office thanks to technology.

In an attempt to retain a happier, more productive workforce, some companies have recognized the importance of making quality-of-life improvements. These employers have instituted unlimited vacation policies. As long as people are on top of their work schedules at these companies, they are able to take time off whenever they need. Seer Interactive and the Brownstein Group are two local companies with such policies. When voluntary vacation days don’t work, other employers have been known to either force or entice their employees to take time off. Some companies, such as Evernote, give employees $1000 or more to leave work for a week, while other companies require their employees to take at least two weeks of vacation a year.

 

 

Working culture in Europe

In comparison, Europeans tend to value the ability to take long vacations and disengaging from work. When a European goes on vacation, it is not uncommon for an employee to not answer phone calls or e-mail until they return. France is famous for shutting down every August as the majority of the country goes on vacation. The ability to take and enjoy leisure time is seen as a badge of pride. When I was honeymooning in New Zealand, all of the other couples on our excursions were Europeans and were on eight-week “holidays.”

Even as Americans are working longer hours, some employers have been experimenting with other ways to boost productivity. One such method is the inclusion of naps in the workplace. These employers see it as a way to counteract sleep deprivation, lost productivity, and to reduce sick time taken. Companies such as Google, Nike, and the Huffington Post are known for allowing employees to take naps when needed. In fact, Arianna Huffington had her own revelation about sleep and productivity when she collapsed after working long hours with very little sleep. Allowing for naps can also boost an employee’s productivity in the short-term with improved performance and alertness.

 

Working culture in Asia

There are countries with longer working hours than the United States, namely in Asia. In many Asian countries working long hours, sometimes 12 hours per day, is considered normal. In Japan, this type of workaholism is known as “karoshi” or “death by overwork.” It causes 1000 deaths per year. The country also has one of the highest suicide rates in the world as more than 25,000 people took their own lives due to stress from work, depression, isolation, and financial problems. (Fortunately, the rate of suicide has been on the decline in Japan.) In many Asian cultures, people are expected to live to work and to sacrifice their personal lives for the sake of a company. In terms of vacations, workers are reluctant to take time off. In China over 70% of workers don’t take their paid vacation time, and some workers haven’t taken a vacation in years.

 

Why time off matters

The implications for health and personal well-being are numerous. In my previous article, “Is Work Killing You?” I wrote about how not taking time off is detrimental to health and productivity. Long hours do not equal more productivity, and ultimately cost employers down the line with absenteeism, sick time, and high turnover. Workaholism and the fear of being seen as unproductive may have become normalized, but the quest for an ideal work-life balance is higher than ever. There are countless articles that offer advice on how to balance a working life with a personal life. If you have your own work-life struggles, these articles are great resources.

Even as forward-thinking employers seek to address the lack of vacation time in American culture with generous perks and benefits, nothing will change unless the culture changes from the top. Americans can look to other countries for ways to structure their own vacation time, but cultural issues around vacations are deep-seeded. As long as people see long work hours as a point of pride, and others fear getting behind in productivity, or being fired, change will remain sporadic and slow because leaders determine the culture and set the example. If more leaders are willing to take more vacations, it shows employees that it’s okay to take and enjoy vacation time.

 

In the 1950s and 60s, labor experts were certain that Americans would be working fewer hours by the 21st Century. The Jetsons, inspired by the sentiment of the time, had George Jetson working nine hours per week. The idea of working less than 20 hours a week may not have become reality (and probably never will), but a 40-hour work week is definitely a more realistic approach. After all, working more than 50 hours per week certainly doesn’t increase productivity and leads to future problems. The utopia promised by The Jetsons doesn’t have to be a nine-hour work week, but the promise of more leisure time is obtainable. Just imagine what work and leisure time would look like if more Americans worked closer to 40 hours per week and used their allotted vacation time.

 

Is Work Killing You?

If-you-are-depressed-you

Sound words of advice from Lao Tzu

 

Yoshinori Ono is a producer for Capcom, a Japanese video game development company. After a long and grueling work schedule, Ono suddenly fell ill and was hospitalized for a week. He remembers the morning of his hospitalization very well. Ono woke up to use the bathroom and saw steam everywhere. There was so much steam in the air that it seemed to choke him. He then collapsed on the bathroom floor. Hearing the crash, his wife called for an ambulance and Ono was rushed to the hospital. When Ono regained consciousness, the doctor informed him that his blood acidity level was extremely high. He had the same level of acidity as someone who had just run a marathon. Ono joked he was just using the bathroom, but his wife noted there was never any steam in the room. In reality, the long hours he put in at Capcom had taken a toll on his health. Even though Ono would go on to recover from his illness, he still puts in long hours at work.

Reading Yoshinori Ono’s story may cause you to wince, but have you ever assessed your own employment situation? You may be a workaholic without realizing it. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • When you are with your friends or family, are you thinking about work?
  • Have you been turning down invitations to social events to work more hours?
  • Do you rarely take vacations or find yourself working through your vacation?
  • Do you have trouble delegating work?
  • Do you feel your identity is your work?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be a workaholic. A workaholic is defined as a person who works compulsively. Some people work long hours because they LOVE their career. Other people work long hours because they are motivated by fear, anxiety, or pressure. Whether you work long hours because you love your job, or you’re motivated by pressure, long hours at work can cause an imbalance and negatively impact your health.

Dr. Travis Bradberry noted in his article “Is Your Boss Worse Than Cigarettes?” that a bad boss can have serious health effects on workers. While having a bad boss isn’t the sole cause of workaholism, the effects are similar. Worrying about losing your job can make you 50% more likely to experience poor health, while having an overly demanding job makes you 35% more likely to have a physician-diagnosed illness. These illnesses can include depression, heart disease, heart attack, sleep deprivation, strained relationships with family and even death. In the long run, the quality of your work may suffer because of mental exhaustion and burnout.

 

A visual of the statistics from Dr. Travis Bradberry's LinkedIn article.

A visual of the statistics from Dr. Travis Bradberry’s LinkedIn article.

Other studies have concluded that working too many hours can even impair your cognitive functions. In a five-year study conducted by the American Journal of Epidemiology, participants who worked 55 hours per week performed worse than the participants who worked 40 hours per week. Compared to many other cultures, Americans tend to work longer hours and take shorter vacations. People who worked long hours did worse in terms of intelligence, reasoning and verbal recall. In short, working longer hours has a negative impact on productivity, and the overall returns are diminished. Working long hours can also lead to major regrets later in life. Game Designer Jane McGonigal mentions in TED Talk about regrets of the dying that remorse over working long hours and not enjoying life is the first regret of many people.

Admitting you may be a workaholic is the first step in tackling the problem. You may be deep in denial, as many people are. However, the idea of not spending your waking hours being productive, or seeing leisure time as wasteful are big warning signs. If you find yourself working too many hours, stepping back from work is a good way to help combat workaholism.

 

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of bringing your complete attention to the present moment. It is being fully aware of yourself and your surroundings. You live in and meditate in the moment, instead of thinking about the past, or the future. Mindfulness is also a great way to relax, and can help relieve stress and anxiety. Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher, is famous for his timeless nuggets of wisdom. On anxiety Tzu stated, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.”

 

Find ways to lighten your workload

If you have a heavy work schedule, you may need to let go of some of your work.

  • Don’t accept more work than you can handle.
  • By juggling more tasks, you may feel more productive, but in reality you may not be accomplishing much more. Marcus Buckingham revealed some great research about multi-tasking and the detriments of doing so in his book, Find Your Strongest Life.
  • Manage your energy by completing the most urgent tasks first in your day.
  • Learn to delegate some of your tasks to others, as you may not need to complete each and every task yourself.
  • Learn to stop being a perfectionist and a multi-tasker.
  • Taking on too many tasks at once can cause you to lose focus on what’s important and your work may never seem to end.
  • Take your breaks. If you’re fond of not taking lunch breaks, or eating at your desk, it’s time to kill that bad habit.
  • Take your entire lunch hour and try going for a walk during your breaks.
  • Exercise before you work. Brent Phillips, MIT-trained engineer and founder of Awakening Dynamics- The Formula for Miracles, promotes exercise for increasing blood flow to your brain, increasing your productivity, and your IQ.
  • A few small changes to your day can go a long way.

Businessman and author Tom Peters has stated, “Leaders don’t create more followers, they create more leaders.”

Lao Tzu also has a few words of wisdom on leadership, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim is fulfilled, they will say: ‘we did it ourselves.’”

A heavy work schedule may also be a matter of the work being allocated to you unfairly. If this is the case, don’t allow this practice to continue. You can do better! Sometimes people take on more because they can’t say “no.” Is this you? There are a ton of articles that teach people how to say “no.” However, we also TRAIN people how to treat us. We think that people “always” treat us unfairly, but really they have learned from us how to treat us, and we condition them, by reinforcing that we will accept and complete the work.

 

Leave work at work

You are more than your job. You are allowed to relax and to enjoy your free time. Think of it this way- anything that runs at 100% all of the time will eventually burnout. The same applies to you. Schedule free time into your day and heed that schedule. During your free time, ignore the temptation to squeeze more work into your day. If you’re with your family, whether it is the weekend or a vacation, dedicate your free time to them. Don’t run to your phone every time it beeps with a new message or e-mail. Save those matters for your working hours, unless it is an emergency. Taking the time to rest and to enjoy that rest will ensure you return to work refreshed and recharged.

 

Think about your future and the legacy you may leave behind. You may enjoy working long hours at work because you love what you do, or you may be fearful of not working hard enough. The short-term bursts of productivity are negated by the long-term detrimental tolls overworking can exact on your mind and body. Learning to let go of long hours can improve your health, your productivity, and your relationships with your family and friends. In the long-term, you will look at your career and smile as you’re able to say you worked hard, but took time to take care of yourself and your family.