Fighting against America’s toxic work culture
From a young age, we’re taught the value of hard work in America. It defines our values early on, and remains front and center in our minds as we navigate higher education and careers. Those who dedicate significant amounts of time to work are praised for their diligence. The corporate culture and high-profile jobs that require tough hours are put on a pedestal. It’s hard to deny this is a uniquely American trait – other countries have hard-working individuals, but work itself is not romanticized and is cleanly separated from personal life and leisure time. I’ve fallen victim to this mindset too, finding it affected how I went through all of highschool and even my first job. But as I’ve grown older and gained more perspective, I’ve realized there’s something just as valuable as hard work: knowing when not to work hard.
The first time I learned when not to work hard was almost a year into my first job. I had always prided myself on my ability to dedicate time to school work and any other task I had, and my new job was no different. I wanted to prove myself as a dependable and valuable employee, so I put in the work. I didn’t turn down any task, I picked up almost any open shift, I tried to do everything as quickly and precisely as possible. But after a year, I began taking on significantly more tasks and working even harder, with responsibilities that no other employee of my title did. My coworkers would acknowledge my effort and often thank me, even joking sometimes that they didn’t know what they’d do without me. But despite feeling good that I was putting in my best, I found I wasn’t actually getting that much out of it. I didn’t get a raise, or a new position, and even began to see my coworkers take advantage of my willingness to take on more work. My lesson really set in when I asked for a raise, encouraged by many others, and got denied.
I still work at that job every now and then, and I still work hard. But I don’t take myself or my tasks as seriously when I don’t get anything out of it. That’s not to say there won’t be situations that will show results from more effort – but your first, near-minimum-wage job probably isn’t one of them. I have actually seen this trend with my friends as well. They work long or numerous hours and are viewed as great employees, and sometimes even love working, but fail to get proper compensation or recognition.
While it wasn’t the end of the world that my first job didn’t value my work properly, I do think I learned something significant before going into a career. I know that I’m not someone that’s okay with working late hours or having to worry about work on my own time. I value my leisure very highly, and I don’t think it makes me a worse employee. I’m happy to do my job well and efficiently, but letting it eat into my personal life is almost never worth it, and neither is putting in extra work for no extra benefits.
This isn’t the easiest mindset in a culture that praises work over leisure, but it’s important to remember life doesn’t have to revolve around work 100% of the time. That’s not the norm in almost any other country, and we don’t have to make it the norm in our own lives. So it is important to know when to work hard, but not so much that we stop getting things in return and lose our own time to do so.