Since the Puritans landed on the North American continent in the 1600s, the United States has seemed destined to define itself by the freedom to work hard for goals and success.
But has it gone too far? The social media hashtag #NeverNotWorking has boomed in popularity, indicating many wish to be identified as “always working.”
Employees feel pressured to give up personal time to succeed in the earnings race … overwork has become the norm.
The 26-year-old who started the campaign, Julieanna Goddard, said it wasn’t meant to be bragging rights for those who are overworked, hate their jobs, and can’t ever log off. Rather, it was “to motivate people to make the changes necessary in their life so that ‘work’ would be something they are excited about and proud of,” highsnobiety.com reported.
Goddard said she grew up in a household where work was dreaded — it was something her parents had to do to put food on the table. She wants more for her generation.
That may sound great, but no matter our age, we are increasingly overworking. The most recent numbers out from Project: Time Off show Americans had 658 million unused vacation days last year. And that can take a toll, even if we love our jobs.
“We love to work, partly because we wouldn’t know what to do with ourselves if we didn’t work,” Islin Munisteri, author of “You Are Enough: A Manifesto for the Overworked and Overwhelmed,” told LifeZette.
Munisteri’s book title calls attention to the downside of working too much — namely, stress, which is the leading cause of visits to the doctor. The most prescribed drugs to alleviate high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression also point to stress as a factor in health.
Half of U.S. full-time workers log more than 40 hours a week, with four out of 10 saying they work at least 50 hours, and two of 10 putting in over 60 hours per week, a 2014 Gallup poll indicated.
“Of course #NeverNotWorking is bragging,” says 31-year-old Matthew Holden, director of marketing for Furlocity.com in Schenectady, New York. Holden believes his generation suffers from a workforce with high education, who feel they need to distinguish themselves.
“Education, and to a certain extent, even experience, has become a lot of white noise. Everyone has a degree, so what’s going to help me stand out isn’t what I did before I got the job, but what I’m willing to do after I get it.”
Chris Post, CEO of Post Modern Marketing, in Sacramento, California, spent years overworking until he began having health issues.
“I believed being 100 percent dedicated to my business was a badge of honor … right up until the day I cracked and starting having anxiety attacks,” said one CEO.
“I believed being 100 percent dedicated to my business was a badge of honor and looked down on those who weren’t willing to make that commitment — right up until the day I cracked and starting having anxiety attacks,” he said.
Holden’s and Post’s experiences point to two sides of the overworking scenario. On one side, competitive work environments emphasize overworking, often expect it, and are willing to exploit employees’ values for profit. On the other side, employees feel pressured to give up personal time to succeed in the earnings race. Together, overwork has become the norm.
“A fear-driven mania began in 2009,” said Mary Wilson (not her real name), of Cleveland, Ohio. Wilson is a human resources executive who has worked for four companies since 2010 in an attempt to lead a less stressed life.
“I’ve noticed it grow and every company I’ve worked for exhibits a willingness to forego the health of its employees for profit now. Even when I changed jobs and made very clear I was willing to work hard, but did not want to do overtime, they said yes to my face, then kept adding to my workload until it was unbearable. I’m now in a fairly good situation, but it took four tries to find a job that suits me and allows me the lifestyle I want.”
Wilson has seen her weight, blood pressure, and prescription drug use decrease as she made lifestyle changes.
“I’m just not willing to work more than 40 hours on a regular basis at this point in my career. ‘Dead from stress’ is not something I want on my tombstone.”
Salaried employees work the most, according to Gallup polls. The legal, financial, and IT professions lead in high hourly work weeks for salaried employees. Nursing and construction lead hourly paid jobs, which create the most overtime opportunities. Hourly workers are usually paid for their extra hours, though they may feel they have little choice in whether or not to work extra hours.
For those who are overworking, it may be time to consider why and how the hashtag applies.
“If we continue to push our workforce with chronic high demand, we will have a chronically ill workforce,” said one pyschologist.
“If we are going to remain productive, we really need to encourage more work/leisure balance,” said Dr. Joffrey Suprina, dean of the college of counseling, psychology, and social sciences at Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida. “If we continue to push our workforce with chronic high demand, we will have a chronically ill workforce. The loss in productivity from illness will far exceed any loss of productivity due to downtime from leisure balance.”
That may be good advice for businesses, but Suprina said individuals need to take the lead in managing their own workload and stress.
“Studies show a proper work/leisure balance increases productivity level when working,” he noted. “Even if just for an hour, find a way to totally disengage from work and revitalize yourself.”
Bailey Poland agreed it’s up to individuals. The full-time communications analyst in Findlay, Ohio, is also a graduate student and freelance writer. She believes #NeverNotWorking is often a form of bragging and doesn’t use it, despite a busy schedule.
“The idea that leisure time is wasted time is pervasive, and there is a lot of pressure to demonstrate that you are constantly busy,” she told LifeZette. “But ‘busy’ and ‘productive’ are not synonymous. In some ways, #NeverNotWorking is a shield against accusations of laziness. If you’re constantly working and constantly busy, you must be valuable in some way.”
She notes the average CEO makes 331 times the average worker’s salary — and that striving for #NeverNotWorking is supporting their reward, not the employee.
“I only work the hours I am paid for, except in extreme circumstances. I prioritize my own well-being over providing value to the company. It saddens me to see so many people assume their only value comes from their organizations’ bottom line.”
Pat Barone, MCC, is a professional credentialed coach and author of the Own Every Bite! bodycentric re-education program for mindful and intuitive eating, who helps clients heal food addictions.