The Culture of Overwork *rant*

We applaud long hours, stupid, crazy schedules, “pulling all-nighters,” and exhaustion as a sign of character. We value achievement above all else, and use words like “lazy,” “entitled,” or “deadbeat,” to describe those people who aren’t striving for the brass ring… the gold watch… or the C-suite with all their might.

Just think of any one of a number of wildly popular TV series over the years – Gray’s Anatomy, CSI, Boston Legal, Damages, etc, and meditate on the message these shows actually transmit. (I’d add “Game of Thrones” but it appears that the ‘job’ in that series is to stay alive – pretty much a 24/7 commitment, I think) The “job” is everything, family comes a poor second… fifth… ninety-ninth… and one is normal to fulfil every human being’s need for affection, intimacy, and connection with one’s colleagues instead of family and friends. And even worse, these shows model that the job (whatever it is) is all powerful and everything – from family dinners to weddings – is interrupted by demands from the job/employer which are promptly obeyed.

Sick. Sick. Sick.

Enter the likes of Brigid Schulte, Ryan Carson, Alan Johnson, Daniel Goleman, Sweden, France, and six of the ten most competitive manufacturing countries in the world.

Sweden is experimenting with a six hour work day for half their employees because they believe that quality is more important than quantity, and they’re trusting the research that says people are more productive when they have MORE time OFF.

Greek workers put in 2,000 hours a year, on average, while German workers put in about 1,400, yet German productivity is about 70 percent higher.

France has made it illegal for employers to contact employees after 6 pm. Think on that for a moment. Yesterday, I learned about the dudes from TreeHouse. They have this figured out. A FOUR DAY WORK WEEK! Annnnnnnnnnnnd this isn’t the first time they’ve done this. Check out this write-up.

The advent of 24/7/365 connectivity with smart phones has taken work from a place you go to, well, work, to wherever you happen to be. Dinner, movie, toilet (some obscene percentage of mobile devices randomly swabbed on the street tested positive for fecal bacteria. eeeeeewwwwww!!!), hospital… you name it. Wherever you are, someone’s got a smart phone and they’re using it, no matter what’s happening in the moment.

This matters because it has a HUGE psychological cost.  As a psychologist, in the past few years I’ve noticed that there’s been a stunning leap in the number of people struggling with anxiety, and I’m seeing more and  more of the physical implications of never having any down time. More physical illness, more general malaise, more chronic, low-grade depression, less quality of life, and stress. Oh. The. STRESS. Too much work makes Jack & Jill sick.

“Work-life balance” is a crock of crap. There’s Work and there’s Not Work. It’s ALL L.I.F.E. The only “balance” you’re going to have is whatever you create yourself between the different parts of life.  

Learn to be in the moment wherever and whenever you are. Just in case you don’t get that, “in the moment” means that you are fully present and engaged in what’s happening RIGHT NOW. If you’re with your children, they have your full and undivided attention. If you’re with your friends, ditto (and by “with” I mean, “…in the presence of”). If you’re on your smart phone, be on your phone. That whole “doing-two-things-at-once” myth? It isn’t possible. Either your attention is on your iThingy/Gadget, or it’s with the present moment.

There’s nothing wrong with gadgets or being connected, but there is something wrong with believing we can be connected through a gadget AND watch Junior in the year end school play. It is IMPOSSIBLE to divide our attention.

Non! Nein! No. No. No. (How does one say “no!” in Swedish?)

Let’s all stop pretending that overwork, 24/7/365 availability, and totally unreasonable performance expectations (whether my own for myself or someone else’s for me) are ideals to be admired.

So be counter-culture. When you’re at work, work. When you’re with friends, family, at the movies, on a date, don’t be working. Employers, stop acting as if the salary you pay bought a slave, and put some policies in place to protect your employees’ health and wellbeing.

I wonder if TreeHouse is hiring psychologists?

More helpful ranting about overwork here, here, and here, and a great infographic on spotting the overworked employee

2 Comments on “The Culture of Overwork *rant*

  1. “Nej” pronounced “‘nay” is Swedish for ‘no’. It is most effective when politely enunciated, I gather. Good article. The reason people can’t say it is because they are a) not Swedish, b) afraid.

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