Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Work Makes Free?

Americans don’t just work more than they have in the past, they work more than most of the industrialized world. American workers spend more hours at the office — or on the assembly line or behind the coffee counter — than Europeans. A 2004 study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found Americans work “50 percent more than do the Germans, French, and Italians.” More recent data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development found that in 2014, Americans outworked several expected other countries, among them Sweden, Norway, the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland and Austria, all countries that rank higher than us on the most recent World Happiness survey.

The most surprising discovery of the poll, though, is that we have surpassed Japan, long stereotyped by Americans as a society far more workaholic than our own, in annual hours worked by a tally of 1789 to 1729. That means Americans now collectively putting in more work hours each year than the country where necessity led to the invention of the term karōshi (“death from overwork"). Japan, at the very least, demands a legal minimum of 10 paid vacation days (though many employers provide more) along with 14 weeks of maternity leave. (The country has also undertaken a more aggressive effort to get new fathers to take advantage of paid paternity leave.)

France goes even further, offering 30 days of vacation and 16 weeks of parental leave, while Scandinavian countries and Australia and New Zealand top even the French. Yet in the United States workers have no legal guarantee to any amount of vacation at all — or sick days, for that matter, despite a report finding all those sick people at work ultimately cost the country $160 billion in lost productivity each year. The U.S. has the distinction of being the world’s only industrialized nation with no national legislation demanding employers offer maternity leave. And paternity leave? That is not even on the far horizon. With mainstream presidential candidates suggesting Americans should just work a little harder, efforts to curb the culture of overwork seem unlikely anytime soon,

Without any legal right to vacation, sick days or maternity leave, nearly a quarter of Americans work jobs that offer no paid time off, per a 2013 study from the Center for Economic and Policy Research. The study found that part-time workers are “far less likely to have paid vacations (35 percent) than are full-timers (91 percent).” Women are disproportionately affected, since studies find they outnumber men among part-timers, 61 to 56 percent.

In the white-collar “professional” fields, technology, changing cultural expectations around work, and for the last few years, recessionary belt tightening now require they do more with less, a series of factors that has given rise to what the New York Times calls a “24/7 work culture.” The Times notes that “the pressure of a round-the-clock work culture — in which people are expected to answer emails at 11pm and take cellphone calls on Sunday morning — is particularly acute in highly skilled, highly paid professional services jobs like law, finance, consulting and accounting…These 24/7 work cultures lock gender inequality in place, because the work-family balance problem is recognized as primarily a woman’s problem. The very well-intentioned answer is to give women benefits, but it actually derails women’s careers. The culture of overwork affects everybody.”

Across the board both men and women workers are sleeping less and working more than in recent decades which, incidentally, means our work isn’t nearly as good as it could be. Tired brains, which science tells us inevitably result from working without reprieve for longer and longer, are less creative and inventive, and more mistake-prone. The Harvard Business Review notes that recent studies have found downtime helps us reboot, so we can actually put our work goals in perspective. As the researchers explain, “when you work on a task continuously, it’s easy to lose focus and get lost in the weeds. In contrast, following a brief intermission, picking up where you left off forces you to take a few seconds to think globally about what you’re ultimately trying to achieve.”

Study after study shows that interrupting the work day for brief intervals of “me time,” taking vacations and getting a full night’s sleep are all key to maximizing productivity. For instance, air traffic controllers' work schedules often lead to chronic fatigue, making them less alert and endangering the safety of the national air traffic system, according to a study the government.

Peonage under capitalism is all part of the ruling class plan for America's “greatness”. The oligarchs and plutocrats don’t care about people, just profits. Their objectives arr productivity and returns rather than quality of life.


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