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)
- 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!