We Are Overworked and Overstressed and It Is Getting Worse

A recent study conducted by the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) found that half of all non-essential workers feel obliged or uncertain about expectations to get work done when taking paid time off (PTO). Even more startling: Three-fourths of workers bite the bullet anyway — and work while on vacation.

“Most workers bring their laptops with their flip-flops on vacation,” noted Barry Lawrence, MBA, a researcher for HRCI, which provides credentials for human resources professionals. “Employees are confounded by a mixed bag of written company policies, unspoken expectations, shared beliefs, and poor examples set by CEOs and supervisors.”

Another 2016 poll conducted by the U.S. Travel Association’s Project Time Off found that 55 percent of American employees don’t take all the paid vacation days they’re due, up from 42 percent in 2013. The study also found that 37 percent of workers fear getting behind on their work, 30 percent believe that nobody else can do their work while they are away, and 22 percent say they are completely dedicated to the company.

And then there’s today’s gonzo macho tech culture. The New York Times reports that there’s a common attitude in the Silicon Valley and beyond: Working 9 to 5 is for losers. For many people, this means skipping vacations, days off, dates, watching Netflix or, for those with a family, spending time with a partner and kids. “A century ago, factory workers were forming unions and going on strike to demand better conditions and a limit on hours. Today, Silicon Valley employees celebrate their own exploitation,” the article points out.

About one-third of Americans say they are chronically overworked. The Family and Work Institute found that only 8 percent of those who do not consider themselves overworked experience symptoms of clinical depression compared with 21 percent of those who are highly overworked.

Curse the French and other Europeans for taking four to five weeks off every summer. Frankly, I’m in the camp that they are a lot smarter than Americans — at least about the value of personal time and maintaining mental sanity. Living in a white-collar sweatshop where three meals a day are pizza, pizza and pizza — and sleeping at the office while trying to constantly meet deadlines — doesn’t sound like a great long-term strategy for work or for life.