Working more…or less

By Caitlin Kelly

Longtime readers here know this is something I think about a lot.

The New York Times ran an editorial on this, urging Americans to seriously consider working less:

Search online “work too much” and you’ll get screenfuls of information about the harmful medical, mental and social consequences of spending too much time on the job, going all the way back to that old saw first recorded in the 17th century, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

It should be “makes Jack a dead boy,” says the latest contribution to the literature of overwork, this one from the World Health Organization and the International Labor Organization.

A new study by the two groups says that working 55 or more hours a week is a “serious health hazard.” It estimates that long working hours led to 745,000 deaths worldwide in 2016, a 29 percent increase over 2000. Men accounted for 72 percent of the fatalities; the worst concentrations were in the Western Pacific and Southeast Asia, and particularly among 60- to 79-year-olds who had worked long hours after the age of 45.

Reading this book is enough to set one’s blood to boiling…but so many Americans are still too scared, too poor and too disorganized (i.e. no union) to do a thing about their terrible hours, conditions and pay.

But there’s also a peculiarly American insistence, beyond financial need, to keep proving to everyone all the time how productive you are, as if there’s some Powerful Person standing somewhere with a clicker to clock every minute you ever worked and you’ll be rewarded by….not dying?

As if working all the time for money, to burnish your professional reputation, to boost your income or status, is the only thing worth attaining or achieving.

What about:

Family?

Friendships?

Caregiving?

Travel?

Leisure?

Hobbies?

Volunteer work?

Education?

If Covid’s terrible damage to millions — destroying their long-term health or killing them — wasn’t sufficient warning that our time here is limited and we have many other ways to spend our time, what is?

15 thoughts on “Working more…or less

  1. Robert Lerose

    I had planned to do some low-energy office work over this rainy weekend: filing, organizing, paperwork. No writing, no editing. And I did get some of these tasks done, and I was glad: it was a relief to clear these things up. I expected to do more–but when midday Monday came, I walked away from those tasks. I was tired, from things in general and caregiving in particular. I took the afternoon off, finished a book I was reading, and felt better by the end of the day. I started a talk with myself this morning about making a few changes in walking away from my desk more and finding some restorative time and/or activities for me. I hope I have the wherewithal to make good on those changes.

  2. Robert Lerose

    I was going to send you and Jose a separate email to say that you guys did an extraordinary job in sharing your experiences and providing hard truths (with compassion) about this business. It was also abundantly clear to see the mutual respect, support, healthy competitiveness and playfulness you guys have. Please let Jose know how much I enjoyed finally getting the chance to hear from him for an extended period of time.

  3. Jan Jasper

    Caitlyn, as you have aptly observed, people in the U.S. often seem to fetishize productivity as an end in itself. But I do wonder how much of it is due to the exorbitant cost of health insurance here – and not just for freelancers. I would think that employees with company-provided health insurance, at least on a subconscious level, fear that if they are seen as unproductive and lose their jobs, they will face finding insurance on their own, once their (very expensive) COBRA runs out.

      1. Jan Jasper

        That’s a good point. For some people the obsession with working long hours has little to do with an actual financial need to earn more. For many people it is their entire identity. It seems to be only in the United States

      2. I know!

        I don’t regret moving here but am sick of it being people’s focus. It makes for VERY boring conversations if they never travel or savor culture or have (as I do) many other interests, typical of other countries.

    1. nasanegajanan

      Indeed, a great topic to discuss.

      This is a real time issue and all states should should see it as a issue.
      It is very sad that every government in the world focused only on profit making now days.

  4. If we could all be a bit more generous with each other and need less materially, we could have a world where we could pursue our joy instead of wealth . . . I think. That experiment has yet to be started . . .

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