Huffington Post offers an interesting take on Americans’ attitude toward work and time off. 16% of people worked would trade 20% less pay for 20% less work. While this statistic is interesting, it reveals two big problems in our current work economy:
- So many people are living so close to the edge that they can’t even pretend to be to do this.
- Some people still have good jobs, or they could not answer the question in the affirmative. For a person making $50,000 a year, 20% is $10,000. Not many Americans could give that much up and still continue to live in their current manner.
The question is interesting. What it tells us about American workers is even more interesting: We’re overworked, underpaid, and highly stressed. America needs a raise.
Huffington Post offers an interesting blog post from Dharmesh Shah, the CTO of of HubSpot. Shah says “you should never leave work on time.” His point is that many people work at jobs that are boring and make them watch the clock. I agree with him that a good job should be part of our life, that we should stay at work sometimes to meet a late deadline or to help a co-worker.
However, I think this good advice can have a negative side as well. Many people I know never leave work at their schedule time. Their schedule is open-ended. They take work home and come to the office on the weekends. Even if they love their job, there is too much work because many companies have come to think that the secret to productivity is under staffing.
Life needs balance. Too often now, the balance is weighted in favor of the employer. A writer I greatly admire, Seth Godin, has said things similar to Shah. As an entrepreneur, I agree with them. I frequently work late and often am in the office seven days a week. However, that is my choice. For many employees, the company they work for asks for more and more. In these cases, I strongly disagree with Shah. Too many people are carrying their jobs home in a way that destroys lives and family. Employers and employees both need to recognize that work is part of life, but not all of it. There is a time to leave work and start living.
On Sundays, I write a “Sabbath” post that takes its title from the similarly named poems of Wendell Berry. These poems are not preachy or philosophic. Like much of Berry’s writing, they are simple reflections on how we do live and how we should live.
In that spirit, I want to ask: How insane have we gotten that people have to do their “Black Friday” shopping on the evening of Thanksgiving? How selfish have we gotten that we will deny a day of rest to others so we can get a discount?
Our lives have become a mess of schedules and deadlines. Few people work 40 hour weeks. Our time off is a matter of running from place to place. Even the lives of children have become organized nightmares of leagues and structured activities. We seem to have lost the ability to sit quietly and enjoy a peaceful moment. The business lie of productivity where no minute can be waste has seeped into our personal lives. “Are you making the best use of your time?”
Americans should remember the lesson of the Sabbaths our grandparents enjoyed. We need time off to rest and clear our heads. We need that time to reflect on what is really important and what we should be most thankful for. In Berry’s words:
What stood, whole in every piecemeal
Thing that stood, will stand though all
Fall – field and woods and all in them
Rejoin the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
What is that hymn? Peace, which is what I wish all on this Thanksgiving day: Peace.
A friend gave me a great book, The Wage Slave’s Glossary, which defines words related to work and workers. Two terms caught my eye: after dinner man and hour-glass ceiling. The first originated in the 17th century and referred to a man who had to go back to work after dinner. The book’s author Joshua Glenn quips, “We are all after-dinner men and women now.” The hour-glass ceiling is a related term. It refers to time constraints that limit careers, generally careers of working mothers. Some people need to do family work at nights and on weekends, which limits their “after dinner” potential.
I strongly recommend this book, which is wise, witty, and – too often – sad.