The overworked American — myth or reality?

by Bob Sullivan on September 13, 2013

2013-08-05 17.23.44 (577x1024)Once upon a time, Labor Day was a chance to take a break, and to honor those who fought to create the proper work-life balance.

Sounds like a fairy tale now. For many Americans, Monday was just another day to labor — if not at an office or factory, through a mobile phone or laptop while at the beach, or during the family barbecue. It took labor unions more than 100 years to fight for nights and weekends off; smartphones have taken them away in less than five years.

Another new survey shows that Americans aren’t unplugging and they aren’t resting, even during three-day weekends. The latest research, an online survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Silicon Valley tech startup Jive Software, showed that 90 percent of Americans say they work during non-working hours. More than one-third of Americans (37 percent) say they work more than 10 hours a week during personal time; fewer than half that number devote that much personal time to work in Great Britain.

The results, while self-reported, are consistent with study after study that show Americans are tethered to work by technology and can’t seem to break free. Oft-quoted data claims that average Americans put in 35 hours weekly in 1970, but 46 hours today, and that U.S. employees work 376 hours more annually than their German counterparts.

Average Hours Worked, U.S. vs. Germany

Nailing down accurate overworked data is notoriously difficult — much of the popular data, such as the Jive survey, is self-reported, and workers are certainly prone exaggerate their hours.

Official Department of Labor statistics are less persuasive, showing worker hours during the past several decades are relatively flat, and some Federal Reserve data suggests worker hours are actually down slightly in recent years. Official data undercounts the overworked effect, however. It is skewed by a sharp rise in “involuntary” part-time work — in July, there were 8.6 million such workers, twice as many as 2006 — and doesn’t reflect the two-income phenomenon.

Recently, the St. Louis Fed released a nifty tool which puts the dreadful U.S. overwork phenomenon in clear view, however. Mapping U.S. hours worked vs. various European nations since 1950, it’s obvious that Americans are getting the short end of the stick and burning the wrong end of the candle. Beginning in the 1980s, U.S. worker hours began soaring past those in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and really any other first-world nation.

Vacation policies and social norms certainly have a lot to do with this. In the U.S., paidvacation is not required, and most workers get only two or three weeks. In Germany, four weeks is the minimum required by law. Perhaps more important, it’s customary for many Germans to take two or three week trips in August, effectively shutting down entire industries — and clearing the way for no-guilt vacations. In America, meanwhile, only 57 percent of U.S. workers even take all the vacation they’re entitled too.

Keep reading the original story here.

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