Why Does the US Continue to Ignore Hazards of Longer Work Hours?
By Anna Bondi
One of modern America’s struggles is finding the balance between work life and family life. Society is indoctrinated that anyone who works hard enough can achieve the American dream. We have heard from parents and teachers growing up that there is always more work to do. To say we need less would go against everything taught about virtue and discipline by the American rhetoric.
The truth of the matter is that working long hours is harmful to both our mental and physical health. In a study by Osaka University, researchers found that high-ranking employees who work more than ten hours a day have less healthy lifestyles. Their lives consist of fewer hours of sleep and a poorer diet compared to their colleagues. These employees also perceive themselves as having higher stress levels and a lower quality of life than those who have shorter work hours.
Some countries appear to be embracing these findings by implementing fewer hours and better benefits for workers. The United States does not appear to be one of them. Many studies find that the United States lags behind European countries when it comes to paid vacation, sick days, work-life balance, and labor conditions, according to the Guardian.
In France, full-time workers are guaranteed five weeks of paid vacation each year. There is also an agreement in certain industries that allows workers 11 hours of rest each day with no work-related interruptions such as emails or phone calls, according to a 60 Minutes report.
Some German companies force employees to turn off all work-related technology at the end of the work day unless it is an absolute emergency. NBC News writes, Germany has an average of 27.8 hours of work per laborer each week, one of the lowest rates in the developed world. The Guardian quotes German Labor Minister Ursula von der Leyen: “It’s in the interests of employers that workers can reliably switch off from their jobs, otherwise, in the long run, they burn out.”
Countries like Sweden and Finland also provide excellent family-oriented benefits that far surpass those of the United States. In Sweden, families are entitled to 480 days of parental leave, and the state subsidizes 80 percent of their salary, a topic that remains controversial in the United States. Additionally, in Finland, children of working parents are legally guaranteed access to subsidized childcare.
Aside from increasing the standard of living and improving quality of life, fewer hours per laborer means that work can be spread more easily among people—those who work too much will find respite, and those who are unemployed will find jobs. Long work hours are not necessarily productive. With shorter hours, workers have increased morale and higher motivation to produce quality goods and services.
Many European countries have embraced this concept. Now, it is time for the United States to do the same. The United States needs to reassess its labor policies for its citizens to have well-rounded lives. Maybe it is time for the American dream to take on a new definition that truly represents what Americans need and want in life—a healthy balance between hard work and freedom to pursue one’s desires to the fullest extent possible. The quality of one’s life should not be based on the quantity of production, but the quantity of happiness.