Friday, October 20, 2006

Picking money over time-- are we working too much? (Take Back Your Time Day, 10/24)

It's almost October 24th, which is Take Back Your Time Day. It's set on October 24th because that's 9 weeks before the end of the year, and the average American works almost 9 weeks (350 hours) more each year than the average citizen of Western Europe. 350 hours!

Part of that is because of less vacation time (and other time off, like holidays, sick leave, parental leave, etc); as I wrote last month , we take less than half the vacation days that our European counterparts do.

Another big issue is overtime. In America, mandatory overtime is at near-record levels, and the average American works more hours a year than ever before. You wouldn't think it would be this way. Back in 1965, a Senate committee predicted we'd have an average 22 hour work week in 1985 and a 14 hour work week by 2000! Why? Because of automation and increased productivity. Well, the technology and the productivity have come along pretty much on schedule (and other countries have taken advantage by working less). But in America, instead of harnessing that to give us a shorter work-week and more leisure time, we are working more than ever before and spending more than ever before. Per-capita consumption has nearly doubled in real dollars, from $11,171 to $22,152, in the last 30 years or so. Instead of cutting our work time in half, we've just doubled our spending.

Overwork has serious consequences. It damages our health, interferes with our relationships with family and friends, and cuts down the quality of the free time we do have (when we're too tired to do more than "veg out"). Our communities suffer when we're too busy and tired to volunteer, participate politically/civically, or be creative. Overwork hurts the environment (studies show that the more hours we work, the more processed and over-packaged products we buy, and the less we recycle). And our productivity per hour is actually less than in other countries where people work less. [Check out a terrific New York Times Op-Ed piece on these issues and more, reprinted here.]

Take Back Your Time Day is a day to spread the word about this situation, to encourage others to stop and think about how much we're all working and whether it needs to be that way. And recognizing that the problem and our hopes for improving it come from both an individual and societal level, Take Back Your Time has both small-scale and big picture suggestions to address the problems.

Some of the many individual/small-scale suggestions they make:

  • Keep track of your expenses on such "time savers" as fast food, convenience items, etc. and calculate how much work-time it takes you to buy them
  • Cut TV viewing to one hour a day or eliminate the TV for a week
  • Take a long walk
  • Learn to meditate
  • Start a discussion about work-sharing in your work place
  • Have a meeting in which everyone brings one item they bought but never used, and talk about spending habits
  • Put up posters and signs about Take Back Your Time
  • Read some of these thought-provoking books about Take Back Your Time issues, and share and discuss them with friends and neighbors
  • Take back four "windows of time" between Take Back Your Time Day and December 31st for slow, quiet, life-renewing activities ( see here for more)
There's also the Time to Care six-point policy agenda, most of which has already been implemented in many or most European countries:
  • Guaranteeing paid parental leave
  • Guaranteeing at least one week paid sick leave
  • Guaranteeing at least three weeks paid vacation leave
  • Putting limits on employers' ability to impose mandatory overtime
  • Making Election Day a holiday
  • Making it easier for employees to choose part-time work

So, what do you think? Is there a problem? Do you agree that Americans are working too much in general, or not? How about yourself personally-- do you work more than you'd prefer? If so, do you feel like you're doing it willingly in order to be better off now and/or in the future, or do you feel pressured to? Where does that pressure come from-- from your financial needs? From your financial wants? From the culture and expectations at your job? And what do you think about Take Back Your Time's policy suggestions? If you think there's a problem but you don't agree with the policies suggested, do you have other ideas?

I'm so interested to hear what everyone has to say about this!


Tiredbuthappy said...

Yes, I am working too much! Do I want to? NO. Do I see a way out? NO.

I want to write all kinds of thoughtful and useful comments on this post, but I'm too darn tired and I have to get up early tomorrow to go to work.

Good post.

BrooklynChica said...

I agree 100% with everything said. I personally believe I could have a 4 hour work day and be completly done. I have to stay the whole 8 hours because everyone else is. I have really started to resent the whole concept of office work and even though I have a very creative job (photo editor) I'm even considering going back to school and maybe starting my own business. That way the hours I put in will pay off for me and not just be logged to fill a corporate rule.
Another growing resentment- people who come in when they are sick. Not only are they exposing everyone to their various diseases but they create an atmosphere where you have to be practically dying to use a sick day and if you use one to relax it's considered slacking off.

Sally Parrott Ashbrook said...

We definitely work too much, and our government shouldn't allow it. We've gotten too far into free market and need to be demanding back some personal rights as just that--rights. The old chant was, "Eight hours for work, eight hours for play, eight hours for what we will." How many of us even just work eight hours a day now?

Part of this goes back to a topic that pisses me off enormously. Many politicians talk "family values" but don't pass laws--likes ones that provide paid leave for new parents--that actually support families. It's ridiculous. If you believe in families, let's talk about a decent wage and decent healthcare. Oooh. You can tell I have a soapbox. :)

CJ said...

I'm fortunate that I work for an employer and in a job (as a writer) where overtime is very rare. However, I also have an hour commute each way because I live close to my and my spouse's family; we want our son and his grandparents to spend regular time together. I've looked, but I haven't found a company more local company that offers the same benefits.

Time, money, values...they all tie together. And for me, watching my son run into the joyous arms of my parents every weekend is well worth the time and mileage.


Jessica said...

I enjoyed reading this article. I am a college student and know that america's problems with stress will just get worse if we allow our employers to mandate how much time we should spend fulfilling their dreams of owning a business.
If a company offers vacation time and then frowns on people using it only explaining that they get paid for it weather or not they take the time off... well then why dont they just offer a year end bonus... Dont get your employees hopes up! Anyway, i am refering to this page in a speech i am making for my stress psychology class. thanx

People for a Shorter Workweek said...

Great article. Americans work too much, for sure! My friends in Europe are shocked when they hear our work horror stories! I also have a blog here, with lots of helpful web sites related to taking back our time, simple living, leisure time, slowing down, etc. I am also listed on the Take Back Your Time web site as a coordinator for my area.

FIRE Finance said...

Time is the only resource which we cannot recover once it is lost. We can recover Money but not time. This article is a great reminder of the above fact. We have learnt about it the hard way. Now we make it a point to check consciously whether we are working too much or not. Also spending quality time where it matters is a top priority for us.
Thanks for this great post.