Busyness Has Become Our Business
Feeling overworked and demoralized? You have plenty of company.
recent Roper poll finds that job satisfaction is at its lowest ebb
since the organization began its surveys. As corporate profits and stock
prices have plummeted in recent months, people are working longer and
harder-for less pay, fewer benefits, and fading job security. Something
has to give. Fatigued by their round-the-clock regimen and fast-forward
pace, people are arriving at work with their enthusiasm gone, energy
spent, and creativity stunted. "Everybody is exhausted, and nobody
really thinks things are going to get better," says New York management
consultant Robert Swain.
The deterioration of the white-collar
workplace began in the 1980s when hostile takeovers and colossal mergers
led many companies to adopt a "slash and burn" approach to cutting
expenses and positions. Over the past twenty years, some 45 million
employees have been laid off-at least once.
Those who have
managed to keep their jobs have faced rising expectations and unsettling
uncertainties. Executives and professionals now work four hours longer
each week than in 1979, and they take twenty percent fewer vacation
days. As the Lexus commercial boasts, "Sure, We Take Vacations. They're
Called Lunch Breaks."
average woman works nine more weeks a year than she did in 1970. The
breakneck combination of overwork and frenetic leisure leaves no time
for true relaxation. Hurtling from meeting to meeting, project to
project, cell phone to laptop, we ignore our children and neglect our
spouse. Burnout is rampant. Our morale grows stale even as our work
grows more intense. A sense of melancholy kidnaps us as we navigate the
relentless routine of our workaday world.
working hours and greater stress also degrade our health. The American
Medical Association reports that the average white-collar worker gets 60
to 90 minutes less sleep than needed. Job dissatisfaction, not
cholesterol, smoking or lack of exercise, is the surest predictor or
Of course, Americans have from colonial days
embraced a dedicated work ethic. But it has gotten out of control. New
technologies have made work a 24/7 activity. People are shackled to
their jobs, skipping lunch hours and taking laptops, beepers, Palm
Pilots, and cell phones home at night. In White-Collar Sweatshop, author
Jill Fraser quotes a manager at a large financial services firm who
reported that "she had been so overloaded and understaffed that she had
been forced to work through the entire night before her wedding."
average, Americans work 350 hours more per year than Europeans. For
many people, the 37-hour workweek has become afond memory. The average
workweek for professionals in the
United States is now 47 hours.
Over 25 million Americans work more than 50 hours per week, and another
11 million spend more than 60 hours on the job.
Such frenzied schedules help explain the surge of work-related disorders.
accounts for almost 90 percent of all primary-care physician visits.
One estimate claims that work-related stress cost the economy over $200
billion last year.
True, some people seem to thrive amid the
longer hours and constant pressure. Their compulsive personalities
require the constant stimulation of such high-octane careers. A Gallup
Poll reports that 44 percent of Americans call themselves "workaholics,"
many of whom willingly put in insanely long hours-and often brag about
it. Some use work as a refuge from the chaos and conflicts of home life.
Others have become addicted to high-octane, "we need the money"
careers. These "work to spend" Americans are convinced that they must
generate more and more income to support their increasingly expensive
habits. "You get trapped by big houses, big cars, the lifestyle, the
nice vacation," admits a senior manager at Intel.
workers, however, are seeking a way out of the "white-collar sweatshop."
Polls show that 20 percent of salaried employees have exchanged fewer
working hours for lower salaries. These "downsizers" are seeking a
better balance between their work and their personal lives, and they are
asking employers about part-time and flex-time options.
sure, restoring balance to work lives careening out of control is easier
said than done. Busyness has become our business. To slow down seems
impossible. But there are always options, however painful they might
seem. Rearranging our priorities and redefining goals requires a
courageous conversation with our selves and our bosses. We need to spend
our days as carefully as we spend our dollars. After all, time is our
most precious possession. It is life itself.