working too much in America

26 08 2006

A friend forwarded me this article which says 43 percent of office workers in American work during their vacation, which is about twice as much as 10 years ago.  About 25% said they work 3 or more hours during vacation.  Also in the study, only 61% of Americans use all the vacation time they have.

This troubles me.  (How’s that for a pithy summary?)  It’s not healthy when work consumes our life.  We should be able to relax after leaving work, not having to take it home with us.  And we should especially be able to put it aside during our vacation.  I realize we sometimes have to work overtime in some professions, and there are situations where we need to be on-call, but there has to be time when we can get away from it all and relax.

The fact that 39% of people aren’t taking all their vacation is surprising.  I take all I have available.  I enjoy the time off, and it gives me more time to do other things with my life.  And it’s okay with the company, because they’re giving me the time to take off with pay.

I see this trend at the company I work for, where some people work a lot of hours each week.  My team leader often logs in and works at night, on weekends, and even during his vacation.  I know he’s important to the work that’s going on, but the company should be able to function without him for a few days.  Last year he lost two weeks of vacation because he didn’t take it.

Is this trend a result of capitalism and greed?  Of course greed plays a part, but I think capitalism is partly to blame, too.  Because of how public companies’ earnings are scrutinized, you must grow at a certain rate per year or your stock (and thus company value) goes down.  If you have revenue of $1 billion and make $100 million in profit one year, then the next year also make that much, then you’d have $200 million in free cash flow, which seems like a great thing to me.  But our economists would put it down because the company didn’t grow.  Because we have this pressure to grow, we must make more money each year.  The company doesn’t want to hire many new associates because that increases expenses, so they try to squeeze more and more profit out of everyone who is there.  And so the associates get overworked.

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6 responses

28 08 2006
Kri'

I see this a lot in my profession, as well. 200+ emails per day (including during the night & weekends). An “unwritten rule” to answer those emails even during the weekend and vacation if it’s a critical matter. Lots of working past 5 PM every day. There truly is a lot of pressure to show you are working hard to advance the company.

I don’t totally agree with your capitalistic view, however, as my company just recently became a publicly traded company. During the majority of my time here, we were a private company that did not have stock traded and we still had the same symptoms this article describes. I personally believe it’s a matter of greed, plain & simple. Greed will show through regardless of whether investers are peeping in or not.

I have heard of great companies to work for (a lof times, godly companies) where employees are not pressured with these kinds of work environments, and they love their job (Southwest Airlines is one that immediately comes to mind – their employees liked their boss so much, they bought a full-page ad in USA Today thanking him for a great place to work. Wow). And without all the overly high pressures/stress, these companies are still successful, too… Hmm….

28 08 2006
Fab

Yeah, I read about that full-page ad in USA Today and something the employees thanked their boss for was for leading them to be the only major airline to turn a profit (if I remember correctly). That says a lot for the company’s corporate philosophy. Treat your folks right, and they’ll do anything in the world for you.

28 08 2006
Charlotte

My husband and I have lived and worked in Germany for the last 10 years. Employees get between 28 and 30 paid working days’ leave a year. Germans use their leave enthusiastically, and are regarded by their colleagues as inefficient if they can’t get their jobs done in the remaining 46 weeks of the year. People spend an average of nine hours at work each day (one hour for lunch) and when they work, they put their heads down and work. If you can’t get your work done in the eight hours available to you, then you are not doing it properly. We have grown to appreciate this attitude, the lack of a long hours culture and the respect for employees’ private time. At one time, we were choosing between a job option in the USA and one in Germany. Germany won, largely because of the sensible work-life balance here.

29 08 2006
Kri'

Charlotte, that’s a great perspective that you give. I have had questions regarding this philosphy, though – doesn’t Germany have a higher unemployment rate, too, and possibly a lower standard of living across the board (i.e. fewer in the “middle class”)? I seem to remember reading/hearing of this in the past and I believe economists linked it to the way workers had so much time off.

Could it possibly be TOO much the other way in Germany (or France, etc)? Is there perhaps a balance that is needed somehow?

30 08 2006
Fab

I think you’re right, Kri’. I was talking with Beppo last night and told him the same thing about Germany and France. At one point, I think unemployment was in the double-digits there, and it may still be. Workers are treated well by their employers there, no doubt, but due to the increased payroll expense created by allowing this much time off without any bang-for-their-Euro while people are on vacation, they are unable to hire as many people and the job market, last I heard had become very tight.

30 08 2006
Kri'

“Bang for their Euro” LOL

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