How do we measure professional success? Is it by the location of our office or the size of our paycheck? Is it measured by the dimensions of our home or the speed of our car? Ten years ago, those would have been the most prominent answers; however, today when someone is really pulling out the big guns, when they really want to show you how important they are, they’ll tell you all about their busy day and how they never had a moment to themselves.
With the use of modern technology, what we could once accomplish in the average 40-hour work week, we can now do in a mere 29 hours, yet statistically the average American is working more hours than ever before. We have created a society of “busyness,” both in the workplace and in the home.
Since the introduction of technology, working professionals are expected to be available around the clock. In fact, France, in an effort to protect their workers, passed a new law barring work e-mail after hours, under the long supported notion by economists that: working longer hours does not result in increased productivity. However, even spouses who choose to stay at home are becoming increasingly busy. Economist Juliet Schor describes the increasing standard of cleanliness that has brought additional work to stay-at-home parents: from 1925-1965 the amount of time spent on laundry in the United States vastly increased; what was the contributing factor? The invention of the automatic washers and dryers. Tools like computers and washing machines, invented to save us time and energy, are actually taking up more of our time as standards of professionalism and cleanliness increase with capability.
Although this is a globalized problem, America is the poster child for busyness. I am a dual citizen of the United States of America and Italy, and have benefitted from the rigorous American work ethic and the relaxed Italian lifestyle. Italian workers receive 42 paid vacation days per year. A surprising figure, but come on, Italians are always extreme! However, Germany, a country known for its work ethic and efficiency, has 35 paid vacation days every year. How many do we receive in America? 12. We get 12 paid vacation days, and is anyone complaining? No! Because most of these vacation days go unused within the United States!
In addition to our lack of paid vacation days, the United States does not benefit, like 185 other countries in the world, from paid parental leave. Instead we join countries like Papua New Guinea, Oman, and Swaziland with unpaid maternity leave, not to even mention unpaid paternity leave.
So why do we do this? Does all this extra work make us more productive? Not necessarily. David Johnson, a writer for Time magazine explains:
“Mexico—the least productive of the 38 countries listed in 2015 data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)—has the world’s longest average work week at 41.2 hours (including full-time and part-time workers). At the other end of the spectrum, Luxembourg, the most productive country, has an average workweek of just 29 hours.
The United States ranks fifth, according to the OECD, contributing $68.30 to the country’s GDP per hour worked, countering claims that Americans are the most productive workers in the world. America put in more hours—33.6 per week on average—than all four of the European countries with higher productivity rankings.”
As I continued to research this topic I found that America was continually falling in the ranks of productivity while forever increasing their number of work hours. A 2016 study by YouGov Uk showed America to be the 10th most productive country in the world, while remaining the nation on the top ten list that works the most hours.The U.K. is taking a leading role in calling for change. YouGov Uk found that a “working day of seven hours or less would be most productive, and 44% of professionals agree that the work week should be less than five days.
Denise Landers, a productivity expert, explains that relaxation time helps people manage their daily stress, acquire new perspectives on ideas, and find new energy. Denmark is consistently rated the happiest country in the world by the UN and myriads of researchers, who make the study of “happiness” and “well-being” their priority. Denmark is not only deemed the happiest country due to its trust in their government, a minimum wage of $20, and an average of 33 hour work weeks, in addition to all that Danes use their extra time to involve themselves in extracurricular activities. When the OECD ranked nations based on work-life balance last year, Denmark came out on top.The work culture in Denmark is similar to that in the rest of Scandinavia. Flexible work schedules are common and paid vacation time is ample, with at least five weeks of paid vacation each year.
CNN conducted a study this past year on the importance of happy workers. Happiness can make or break a business and “disgruntled, disengaged, unsatisfied workers” cost money. “We aren’t talking a few extra dollars here. Unhappy workers cost the U.S. between $450 and $550 billion in lost productivity each year, according to a 2013 report on the state of the U.S. workplace conducted by research and polling company Gallup.
Americans are literally working themselves to death. Forced overtime, over scheduling, commuting, unpaid labor, housework, increased standards of cleanliness, church service, time cost, and media usage occupy so much of our day that no time is left for ourselves, and we glorify this. We use our busyness to stroke our egos, we work all day and fill our free time with additional activities because we’re “important” and no one else can do what we do.
Well this culture of busyness is creating an extremely unhealthy nation, both mentally and physically. CNN reports that health care costs will grow at an average rate of 5.8 percent every year until Nearly $1 in every $5 spent in the United States by 2024 will be on health care, and for a country where 1 out of 5 dollars is spent on healthcare, America is extremely unhealthy.
For the past several years the U.S. has consistently ranked in the 30’s on the world scale of healthiest countries; however, just this past year we were bumped up to number 28 by Bloomberg. Stress and overwork are contributing to American hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, infertility, anxiety, depression, chronic undiagnosed pain, and sleep deprivation.
On top of all that, we are experiencing a significant decline in social capital. We are not visiting with our friends and our neighbors like the happy Danes do and we aren’t volunteering nearly as much as our citizens have historically. We are even seeing steady decrease in the amount of voters and the amount of people who recycle.
Ariana Huffington, one of the most successful women in the modern world, recently published an article discussing what she would tell her 22-year-old self:
“If I could go back in time, I’d introduce my 22-year-old self to a quotation by the writer Brian Andreas: ‘Everything changed the day she figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in her life.’” Huffington comments that had she heard this quotation sooner, she would have saved herself the expense of the, “perpetually harried, stressed-out existence [she] experienced for so long.”
The editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post continued by calling American obsession with time a “personal deficit crisis.” She said, “Feeling rushed — or like we don’t have enough time to accomplish what we want — which is also known as “time famine,” has very real consequences, from increased stress to diminished satisfaction with your life.” Huffington adds: “As long as success is defined by who works the longest hours, who goes the longest without a vacation, who sleeps the least, who responds to an email at midnight or five in the morning — in essence, who is suffering from the biggest time famine — we’re never going to be able to enjoy the benefits of time affluence.”
Why do we glorify “time famine?” Is it in pursuit of the “good life?” Well let me tell you, you’re missing it! The good happens while you’re busy working. Do you work hard so you can retire and sit on the beach with your kids and lounge without a care in the world? Well you can do that now! Use your vacation days! Take time to relax and de-stress. Clear your mind and your thoughts and give the world your best! When you are happy, well-rested, and relaxed your productivity will greatly increase, you will build more meaningful relationships with others, and you will find that the “good life” has been within your reach all along.
Edited by Ryan Montgomery
Published by: Benjamin Cardullo in LInkedIn