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November 13 2017
As the speaker kept describing the future where by at the click of a button a document was instantaneously sent across the planet, attendees were fascinated with a promising future. The image projected a picture of a better life where technology will deliver benefits of a vast spectrum of social and economic blessings. Unfortunately, it seems that the opposite of that thinking is our reality today. For a vast number of workers in the United States, a 40 hour-week is in reality a 50 or more hours per week or labor. Working after leaving the office is now almost the normal thing to do. Many employers have the expectation to connect to the employees during off-the- office hours. Carrying a Mobile phone almost implies an “instant reply” at any time.
Melinda Gates, wife of Microsoft’s founder and multibillionaire Bill Gates, acknowledges the invasive effect technology can have these days. In a column featured on social networking site LinkedIn, she wrote, “most companies are asking employees to work more. The American workweek has soared from less than 40 hours to nearly 50…Technology has made it harder to pull away from our jobs, and easier to wonder whether a night off or a long weekend is damaging our careers.” Work is a good thing. It makes us feel useful, productive, challenged, accomplished. Work allows us to contribute something to society, paves the way for wealth, pays the bills, and puts food on the table. “Most of us know that continually logging excessive hours can be bad for our backs and brains, as well as strain relationships (especially when we type on our iPhones during family dinners),” journalist Laura Petrecca wrote for USA Today. “But it’s just one more email to send. Oh wait, it’s two, maybe three…suddenly it’s a half-hour later.” Her article continued: “Technical advances provide employees with greater flexibility, yet there’s also the expectation that with increased access, workers will be more available, says Patrick Kulesa, director of employee research at human resources consulting firm Willis Towers Watson. “That constantly-connected expectation comes at a time when work demands are already high. ‘There is pressure globally—it’s not constrained by borders—certainly for multinational organizations to deliver more with less and to be more productive,’ Kulesa says. It’s so difficult to escape the information onslaught that some countries have taken action to help employees maintain some sort of work-life balance.”
More Emails And More Phone Calls After Leaving The Office In extreme cases, overworking can kill you. Sounds like a stretch? Not in Japan, where a lady made international news after it was announced she died of congestive heart failure at age 31 after logging over one hundred hours of work per week. Several news outlets featured her story. Her death nevertheless is far from a rare, isolated event. Karoshi (Japanese for “overwork death”) is so prevalent there that some employers are implementing creative and drastic measures. One company reportedly plays the theme from the movie “Rocky” at the end of the workday to remind employees it is time to go home. Seriously? The Japanese are far from the only ones with a proclivity to break work-life balance norms. While other countries may not be at the level of karoshi, overworking is a 21st-century reality for countless professionals the world over. Ben Waber, CEO and president of the people analytics company Humanyze, had a thought-provoking comparison in an article for news outlet Quartz: “In the US, most discussion of karoshi has assumed that overwork culture is specific to Japan. What many don’t realize is that the problem of overwork is possibly worse in the United States.”
Mr. Waber studied two years’ worth of communication data from some of his clients in both countries. “At first glance,” he wrote, “it appears that Japanese workers extend their workdays longer, working an average of 47 minutes after 6 pm versus an average of 30 minutes for American workers…When we look into the actual timing of this work, however, it appears that workers at Japanese companies aren’t working as much through the late hours. In Japan, about 58% of all e-mails after 6 pm are sent between 6 pm and 7 pm. By contrast, in US companies only 25% of these emails are sent between 6 pm and 7 pm, implying that, in the US, workers tend to splice work into their home lives to a greater degree.”
What about other countries? According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Better Life Index website, out of the 20 countries it monitors: “Turkey is by far the country with the highest proportion of people working very long hours, with 39%, followed by Mexico with nearly 28% and Israel with over a sixth of employees.”
According to the American Institute of Stress, “studies show that job stress is far and away the major source of stress for American adults and that it has escalated progressively over the past few decades. Increased levels of job stress as assessed by the perception of having little control but lots of demands have been demonstrated to be associated with increased rates of heart attack, hypertension and other disorders. In New York, [Los Angeles], and other municipalities, the relationship between job stress and heart attacks is so well acknowledged, that any police officer who suffers a coronary event on or off the job is assumed to have a work related injury and is compensated accordingly…” To summarize: chronic overwork equals karoshi on the installment plan. Undesirable Side Effects A slew of unhealthy habits can be traced back to overworking. “All too often the things we do to cope are not healthy,” Wendell Potter wrote in a post featured by Thrive Global, a start-up that strives “to end the stress and burnout epidemic.” Mr. Potter continued describing that his was “drinking too much. And like a lot of other people, I bought things I didn’t need, racking up credit card debt and finding out, repeatedly, that instant gratification is just that, gratification that barely lasts an instant. Many of us buy bigger and fancier houses than we need, and take on more mortgage debt than we know we should, further assigning ourselves to a hamster wheel that all too soon seems impossible to get off. We become enslaved to our employer and our creditors.”
Other detrimental behaviors that stem from overworking include excess caffeine intake, impulse eating, smoking and drug abuse. Beyond these self-destructive effects, overworking can also take a damaging toll on relationships. Spouses and families must compete with jobs.
Chronic over-workers are absent from family gatherings. They miss their children’s concerts, sports games, and parent-student nights. They claim to not have time for a date night. Their conversations are mainly about their jobs, which makes them seem self-absorbed and plain boring. They bristle anytime someone even hints they are working too much. You likely experience some or all of these symptoms. Or you have a loved one who does. Long-term Fix If you are staring in the face of the work-life imbalance, the quest to reach equilibrium can seem daunting, impossible. Yet realize that you must be alive to work! So, what can you do to restore order? Recall that work is good. Overwork is not. The plain antidote to overwork is rest. Rest is the part of life that has the power to counteract the effects of overwork. Anyway, have you left the office yet? If so, go home, go dance, go to the park, or take your children to the movie theater, no children? No worries go alone, enjoy and stop sending more emails and more phone calls after leaving the office. There is life after your job!
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Have you left the office yet? Why Keep Working After Leaving The Office?
Have you left the office yet? If so, why is that you are sending job related email messages or you are still engaged in phone conversations with regard to a pending meeting or a product review or a similar chore? For many people in the United States leaving the office does not mean stop working. Now days you can see people almost in anyplace such as, the doctor’s office, the post office, restaurants, movie theaters, during a funeral, while driving or even during a much more intimate time, paying attention to work related messages, phone calls and notifications of all sorts. Not long ago during a conference on technology and the future of computing, we were given the description of a world where humans will enjoy extra spare time as the result of the decrease of time needed to accomplish office tasks as computers and other technological devices would emerge with more capabilities and with dedicated intelligence, all in favor of us, people.
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