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Americans Work More than Citizens of Other Industrialized Nations

When the Dalai Lama was asked in an interview about what surprised him the most about humanity, this was his reply:

“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”

And which of the world’s nations does this attitude describe best? You guessed it—the good old U.S. of A.!

Work Time Statistics in the United States

Take a look at some statistics that reveal how overworked and under-rested Americans are:

According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics 20.5 percent of the total workforce−−more than 25 million Americans — reported they worked at least 49 hours a week in 1999. Of those, eleven million said they worked more than 59 hours a week!

Are We Really a Nation that Believes in “Family Values?”

Many American workers sacrifice family life for the job. According to the Center for American Progress, only 20 percent of mothers worked outside the home in 1960. Let’s restate that in a more gender-neutral way, appropriate to today’s society: In 1960, 80 percent of families had one parent who remained out of the workforce to devote time to home and child rearing. Now, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults work outside the home. Parents get home exhausted and then have to hustle about getting the household chores done, after a long day on the job. Family time has fallen by the wayside.

More about our touted “family values:” Zero industrialized nations lack the option, mandatory by national law, for new parents to take parental leave. Except for the United States. In most European countries, new parents enjoy and average of 20 weeks parental leave. In non-European countries, the average is 12 weeks. What does that say about the “family values” so many Americans claim to believe in?

How We Compare to Other Industrialized Nations

Let’s talk about the number of hours that Americans work, compared to the rest of the world:

· 134 countries have laws that dictate the maximum number of hours a person may work in a single week; the United States is NOT among them.

§ In fact, 85.8 percent of men and 66.5 percent of women work outside the home more than the 40 hours that is considered the standard work week.

§ How does this compare with other countries? A couple of examples: according to the International Labor Organization (ILO), Americans work 499 more hours per year than the French. And in Japan, a country infamous for working their people to an early death, workers log an average of 137 fewer hours than American workers.

§ Not only are we putting in longer hours, we’re doing much, much more work during those hours. The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average productivity of American workers has increased fourfold since 1950. data by the U.S. BLS, the average productivity per American worker has increased 400 percent since 1950.

§ Americans are not required by federal law to be given paid sick leave.

§ We are the only industrialized country where workers are not entitled by law to an annual vacation. Most countries mandate 20 days off; workers in France and Finland get 30—with full pay.

How Has This Come to Be?

Why are the citizens of the richest country in the world expected to work, work, work, and work even more—at the expense of their health and families. And why do we allow it?

§ We lack job security and are afraid to lose our jobs if we work less than someone else.

§ Unionism has all but disappeared. Many of our states have “right to work” laws that weaken unions. Without the power of strong unions to negotiate benefits like vacation time and sick pay, profit motive wins out over human concerns.

§ We accept what is offered without a fight, and we take for granted that what many consider overwork is normal. A recent ABC News poll found that only 26 percent of Americans feel they work too hard. We accept the status quo as being unassailable. We are afraid to advocate for our ourselves, our families, and our health. Political activism might influence Congress to provide us the legal benefits enjoyed by virtually every other industrialized nation, and joining and supporting unions can influence employers in the workers’ favor.

§ Fear of the big “S” word. If anyone mentions giving workers more rights, politicians are quick to label it socialism. Our fear of the “S” word is a holdover from the Cold War days.

§ The mythical “American Work Ethic” tells us the more we work, the more virtuous we are. People who want time for leisure and families are afraid to speak up for fear of being labelled as “lazy.”

§ The love of money. People without a lot of money and possessions are often looked down upon in our society. Money is status. We work and work and work for more numerous and more impressive possessions, which we have no time to enjoy because our lives are consumed by pursuit of the money required to own them.

What Overwork Can Do to Us

The consequences of excessive work with little down time are, for many people, stress and its negative effects on overall mental and physical health. The irony is that over-stressed and over-tired people are more likely to become ill and ultimately to be forced to miss more work. Must we wait until a serious illness strikes to take the time we need for our health and well-being? Life is short. Everyone deserves a balance between work, family, and leisure time in order to enjoy and appreciate life to its fullest and prepare our children to take the reins when we are gone. And there is a benefit to employers as well: workers who are rested and de-stressed will be more effective and better able to perform on the job.

Speak Up!

As employees, we need to speak up and be willing to take a reasonable amount of time off when we need it. At the very least, we need to stand up for and strongly assert our right to family leave time and vacations, without fear of having our work ethic criticized. We need to seek out a balance in life, for our own good, for our families, and for the good of society. There is nothing wrong with working to live, rather than living to work.

If your employer tries to retaliate against you for taking FMLA family leave time, taking time to recover from a job-related injury with a Workers’ Compensation claim or demanding proper overtime pay, you should know that this is against the law and a good employment lawyer can help put a stop to it and help you obtain compensation for your damages. Contact the Tampa Employment attorneys at Florin Gray and find out what your options are.

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