by Traci Knight
Overworked Americans are increasingly at risk for severe and debilitating burnout. Workers in the United States are estimated to be 400% more productive today than in 1950 yet there has been a decline in the standard of living. When adjusted for inflation, Americans are making far less than previous generations, but we are working much more.
In the last several decades, wealth has become associated with working longer and longer hours. A Harvard Business School survey from 2008 found that 94% of professionals worked fifty hours or more a week, and almost 50% of professionals worked over sixty five hours. Reversing a historical trend, those working longer hours are receiving higher pay than those who are working less, unless you are a woman.
Gender and Your Risk for Burnout
While working hard is considered to be a barometer for success, women in the workplace tend to put in more hours for lower pay. Almost 20% of women with children under 18 years of age earn more than their husbands and duel income households are the norm. Yet women are still completing more domestic tasks. They are less likely to take sick days and make themselves more available to their jobs, responding to stress by working harder. Even so, women still make 80% what men do in the same position. Women also report higher levels of fatigue and stress related symptoms.
John Ashton, one of Britain’s leading doctors has recently come out in favor of England mandating a four day work week. According to Dr. Ashton, this would help reduce high levels of work related stress and allow people to spend more time with their families and doing other life enhancing activities. It would help redistribute employment between the overworked and unemployed, and start addressing stress induced conditions such as high blood pressure and mental distress.
The U.S. does not have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; at least 134 other countries do. Americans work more than Japanese and British workers, and a whopping 499 more hours a year than French workers. There is no federal law that requires paid sick days in the United States or paid vacations. While new mothers are entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave, it is typically unpaid.
Burnout is more than just being overworked and exhausted. Burnout involves a level of disengagement and cynicism toward work that is not normal in energized workers. It carries a high physical, mental, and emotional toll and is indicative of a serious problem with the working situation. Overwork is a common trigger for burnout, for which the long term solution is often changing jobs or positions. It would be beneficial for businesses to provide healthier work environments with better work/home balance rather than lose employees to burnout.
Quality of life is severely affected when workers are expected to work overtime hours or have multiple jobs in order to make ends meet. Working even 40 hours a week contributes to consumerism, not allowing enough time for people to accomplish basic tasks or enjoy their lives. Moving forward as a society, it is time we analyze the toll that constant work takes on our personal lives and our health.