Originally published on 60x365.com on October 24, 2007:
The crushing demands of a workplace out of control have long been a private anguish of quiet desperation. But that's not true anymore. During the 2004 presidential election, pollsters suggested that surveys and focus groups found that "lack of free time" was one of the most significant concerns of so-called "swing voters", many of whom are mothers with young children. This is no surprise to us. The U.S. has the longest working hours in the industrial world. The average European puts in nine fewer weeks on the job each year than Americans do. While the Chinese have a mandated three weeks of paid leave, Australians four, and Europeans 4 to 5 weeks, the U.S. has no minimum paid leave law.
American public policies protecting our family and personal time fall far short of those in other countries. A recent study released by the Harvard School of Public Health, covering 168 of the world's nations (www.globalworkingfamilies.org), concluded that "the United States lags dramatically behind all high-income countries, as well as many middle- and low-income countries when it comes to public policies designed to guarantee adequate working conditions for families." The study found that:
163 of 168 countries guarantee paid leave for mothers in connection with childbirth. 45 countries offer such leave to fathers. The U.S. does neither.
139 countries guarantee paid sick leave. The U.S. does not.
96 countries guarantee paid annual (vacation) leave. The U.S. does not.
84 countries have laws that fix a maximum limit on the workweek. The U.S. does not.
37 countries guarantee parents paid time off when children are sick. The U.S. does not.
America can do better. We believe there is no compelling reason for the world's richest country to lag so far behind in so many areas when it comes to work/life balance. It is time for the United States to join all other industrial nations in guaranteeing that our nation's tremendous productivity be used to allow Americans freedom from overwork, stress and burnout. Such stress relief will make Americans happier and healthier, and reduce the pressures on our health care system, lowering costs for all. It will also make us more productive. Studies show that job performance goes up after breaks and vacations. A healthier workplace will save money for American business, too, which loses $300 billion a year in job stress-related costs.
We are not against work; meaningful work is essential to the good life. But we need to work more wisely to taste that life, as part of the pursuit of happiness that is our inalienable right as human beings. We want to work to live, not live to work. We need time to care.
October 24 is nine weeks from the end of the year. According to John de Graaf, National Coordinator of Take Back Your Time Day, Americans work nine weeks more per year than anyone else.