Perhaps it’s just my age. Maybe I feel a little jaded from the bad luck I’ve had trying to build a career. Either way, I see things much clearer than I once did. There’s a very twisted mentality towards work here in America.
There are some in society who believe that you aren’t working if you aren’t bleeding. They believe that we must work ourselves in a hole with no breaks, no crying, no distractions, and most importantly, no enjoyment (This is work after all).
I know work is a part of life, but that doesn’t mean it should consume our lives. And it’s okay to laugh and enjoy it. I’ve worked for too many companies where laughter is forbidden. But studies prove that this “crack the whip” mentality at work is ineffective compared to the simplicity of letting employees take a break or have some enjoyment in their work.
Check out this study about taking regular breaks at work. Or for less jargon, read this article from The New York Times that references it. This study says that people who take regular breaks are actually more efficient in their work. Without breaks, we become stressed out and less effective while we work.
There are also countless articles like this one that talk about the small amount of vacation days that Americans actually use. We end up sick, stressed, and overworked despite the vacation time that we are given. Don’t even get me started on how far behind we are in the amount of vacation days Americans are given compared to other developed countries.
August was such a crazy time at my job. My boss has been on a three-month leave, so I’m doing half of her job in addition to my full-time job during our busiest time of year. Unfortunately, the lady doing the other half of my boss’ job has the “crack the whip” mentality. There were others that agreed with her, so I was outvoted in taking any sort of break.
We were paid to eat lunch, so we were expected to cram our food and get back to it immediately. I would rather have clocked out and been allowed to catch my breath for just a few minutes. And those legal 15 minute breaks that are supposed to be included in your workday here in America? I haven’t worked a job yet that included them (in my 15 years in the workforce). It isn’t about to start now.
At the end of the terrible storm that was August, we had more corrections than I’ve ever had to deal with. So many mistakes were made. Most of those mistakes could have been prevented if we weren’t so overworked and frantic. Most were simply a matter of paying attention, but we were too tired to catch it. We spent a significant amount of overtime dealing with these mistakes in the aftermath. It cost us our sanity and our employer the overtime.
Had we been given the breaks we should have been given (both legally and ethically), much of this could have been avoided. I wouldn’t have had to dedicate my entire month to work. I came home, showered, and was too tired to do anything, even the things I enjoy. I went to bed early every night because I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Every morning, I would cringe and sigh as I lay in bed. My life had been consumed by work without my permission.
Now, I’m not against working hard and I’m not saying we should all be lazy. But if you work hard, you should be allowed to play hard. Better balance in our workplace could help both employees and employers. If everyone wins, why do we resist?
I know a LOT of Americans who deny themselves breaks and buy into this mentality. They are shamed otherwise. They’re told that breaks are a sign of laziness. To work hard is to never stop. They are told that hard-workers don’t need breaks. That we can do it all. The way our society has painted “hard work” is slave labor. It’s wrong. I don’t know why we are so keen to destroy ourselves or let someone else destroy us. I’d rather thrive.
Working hard doesn’t mean all those things that “Corporate America” has burned into our brains. We can work smarter instead of longer. And smarter means we all win. Breaks are not evil. Laughter is acceptable at work. We can work AND enjoy it. That will make us better, not worse employees.
My millennial generation has watched companies promise great things to their employees (like pensions, improved wages, etc) and not follow-through. I distrust my employer and the government. Neither will follow-through. The government isn’t going to take care of me in retirement. And when I reach a certain age, my employer may eagerly trade me in for a newer (i.e. younger and cheaper) model. It has happened to people I know.
This whole situation has showed me the bright side of entrepreneurship. I feel braver now. And though starting my own business is a scary concept (my husband and I are still rolling this idea around), it’s starting to seem more inviting. I don’t want to reach retirement just in time to die. I want to have a high quality of life. And I hope work can be a part of that. Too many people have worn out their health from employers who demand that they work as slaves. Instead of enjoying their retirement, they are sick and frail by the time they get there. I’d rather have less money and more health.
Take a well-earned break today. And make a better tomorrow for yourself. One that you deserve.
It would help all of us if we stopped working for the weekend and starting enjoying all aspects of our lives, work included.
Happy Labor Day!