Many strive hard to work hard for the so-called “American Dream,” but how much work is too much? Recent studies have shown that the average American worker is one of the most overworked in the developed world, with the average worker putting in over 47 hours per workweek.
The effects of this are slowly beginning to surface as stress-related illnesses are becoming more prevalent, as well as the rise of mental illness within the workplace.
Workplaces abroad largely shun American work habits, believing that working these long hours is inefficient and inhumane. European countries, such as Germany and Sweden, work under a 35-hour workweek — a much smaller feat than the daunting 47 hour weeks faced by Americans.
This has left many to question: is it worth it? Statistically, Americans are generally unhappier than citizens of European countries. But what American work habits could be the culprit of this?
Americans Rarely Take Vacations
Vacation time varies from country to country, though Americans typically receive the short end of the stick. Generally, the average American worker is granted two weeks of paid vacation a year, if they even choose to take advantage of it. According to the career website Glassdoor, the average U.S. employee only uses 54% of their allotted vacation days per year.
Americans Tend to Eat at Their Desks
A 2015 survey found that only one in five Americans actually spend their lunch breaks away from their desks, many opting to eat their midday meal while they continue to work. This norm is immensely different from European culture, where many take lunch breaks of an hour or more, leaving the office to take a step away from their work.
Americans Seldom Take Breaks Throughout the Day
Going along with short lunch breaks, Americans rarely take the time to step away from their work throughout the day. Studies have proven that taking breaks actually improves focus, increases productivity and aids in retaining information. European workers take advantage of this mentality by taking several short “daily breathers” throughout the day, stepping away to get coffee with coworkers or simply gathering to socialize.
The Workday Extends Even After Leaving the Office
One of the worst American work practices in the eyes of foreigners is that our work follows us home. Emails are frequently still answered after normally scheduled work hours. Work occasionally spills into the weekend when productivity counts aren’t reached. In other cultures, there is a distinct difference between one’s work life and personal life, rarely do the two bleed into each other. France has even taken this mentality to extreme measures, enacting statues earlier this year that allows employees to ignore work-related emails after hours.
There is an overwhelming perception that American workers never truly seem to stop working. As mental health issues in the workplace become more and more prominent, it has left many to question if Americans simply work too much. Could we benefit from the European’s perspective of productivity through patience, or is the fear of falling behind in the workplace too great?