What Do You Want To Be When You Grow Up? An Overworked American

It seems like the one thing we are always running out of, is time. We stay up late at night working, eat fast food at our desk for a 15-minute lunch break and skip out on friends’ and family’s important events. And it’s always justified with the excuse “I have work.” 

There’s this hustle culture in the U.S. in which we are always in competition with each other to try to “get this bread”. Has this led Americans to become overworked? 

According to a USA Today  article, in 2015, 55% of Americans failed to use their vacation days and unlike New Zealand, France, Spain and Russia, the U.S. does not offer any paid leave for new parents. Since when did our career matter more than our family? We are stuck in choosing between our family and our career.

 On top of that, there is no law in the U.S. that limits the maximum number of hours an American can work. Across the ocean, however, an EU directive limits workers to a maximum of 48 hours (including overtime), allows workers a break in the day if they work longer than six hours, and enforces a minimum period of rest of  24 hours every seven days (that’s in addition to a daily rest of 11 hours). 

Europe understands the importance of a healthy work-life balance by actually creating a law to support it. Americans on the other hand, could work nonstop since there are no laws against it. 

The U.S. isn’t the only country with overworked citizens, however. The United States placed 11th in the average annual hours worked per worker behind countries like Mexico, Greece and New Zealand. I guess we can take comfort in that we are not alone in our busy work schedules, but out of the G7 (Major developed countries), we are no. 1 in annual work hours. 

This is not our proudest moment. Yes, we may not be the most overworked country, but considering we are one of the most developed countries, there is a higher expectation set in lifestyle after reaching “The American Dream”.

In a world as advanced in technology as today, our work can spill over into our personal time. Hours spent answering emails or preparing for important presentations are not taken into account. Based on the experience of a professional consultant from one of the big four accounting firms in the world, there is an unwritten rule that if your work is not completed during normal working hours, you are expected to still meet tight deadlines even if it means working under unbilled hours. 

According to this source, there’s a very competitive environment in which you have to constantly prove yourself in order to get a potential raise or promotion which is why workers do not always take advantage of their paid vacation days. As a result, Americans continue to work long hours in order to beat their coworkers in order to come out on top. It’s a jaw-dropper to learn that coworkers are pitted against each other instead of working together to advance the company as a whole.

Since Americans are working longer that means they get more work done, right? Not necessarily. Based on this study, long hours can lead to fatigue which leads to more errors, work accidents and poor decision making. This doesn’t come as a surprise. America’s focus on quantity over quality has not only negatively impacted the health of workers; it also hasn’t necessarily improved their performance. 

Why do we accept to live this way? As my source sadly admitted, “it’s just the way things are”. We must adapt to our environment in order to keep up or else we get cut loose. Factors such as fear of getting fired and financial needs can be the reason why so many Americans adapt to this culture in order to provide for themselves and/or their family.

We need to ask ourselves. Are the risks outweighing the benefits? 

Americans are being overworked, missing out on loved ones’ milestones and their health is taking a hit. They aren’t getting the rest they need or giving the best effort they could with a fresh mind. This leads to an inefficient cycle. Other developed countries have been able to successfully implement paid leave and limits to the amount of work a person can take. So if other countries can do it, why can’t we?