Are Americans Working Themselves to Death?
With the current state of the US economy, it is no surprise that most discussion about jobs is related to unemployment; how many people don’t have jobs, how many people want jobs, and how those people can find jobs.But how has the downturn in the economy affected the 90% of Americans who are employed? Unfortunately, these people often expected to do the jobs of several people in light of recent cut-backs by employers. They are overworked, stressed out, and are feeling burnt-out earlier in their careers. Researchers have discovered links between excessive work hours and high blood pressure, depression, and even heart disease. On top of all this, workers feel guilty for complaining because, “after all, they have a job.”
Many people who are overworked feel defined by their jobs. American culture encourages people to work hard so they can have the “American Dream”. Coupled with the fear of being laid off, this can drive people to work extreme hours. They work, work, work …and do nothing else.
But the notion that status, success, and material goods will bring gratification appears to be false. In fact, research shows the complete opposite. What gives our lives worth and meaning are the activities pursued in our non-professional lives. People find gratification in pursuits that bring internal satisfaction, rather than being dependent upon approval from others.
So what is to be done? The solution lies in the forgotten art of knowing when to say when. In other words, we must remember how to set boundaries. Understandably, people are doing this less because they are afraid of putting their jobs in jeopardy. But surprisingly, research shows that speaking up rarely has the negative consequences we might expect. If done in a respectful way, setting boundaries in one’s work life can be a win-win approach. The employee achieves a healthier work-life balance, and the employer gets a happier employee who does their job more effectively. Imposing healthy boundaries improves productivity and prevents burn-out. Boundaries also give workers what they may have been missing for years: a life.