It could be that the only thing worse than not having a job these days is having one.
SAN JOSE, Calif. — It could be that the only thing worse than not having a job these days is having one.
The New Economy ushered in many things — new ways to work, new markets to explore and new methods to ratchet up the pressure on the American workforce.
Workers are available by e-mail and cellphone at all hours and on any day. They are applauded for being able to do many things at the same time. Multitasking is what it’s called. But what it is, is paying very little attention to everything and focusing carefully on nothing.
Now the Families and Work Institute has put numbers to what we’ve suspected all along — one-third of all U.S. workers are chronically overworked.
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For some, the frenetic pace is maddening.
In the industrial age, overwork sometimes led to horrible accidents that left factory workers maimed or disfigured. In the information age, overworked employees are more likely to have their spirits mangled.
Is it any wonder we’re working so hard?
U.S. companies are becoming more productive by the year. In part, the productivity gains rely on fewer people doing more work. While economists and business leaders have marveled at productivity advances, let’s just say there’s no free lunch. Or no lunch at all for some workers, except maybe at their desks.
In Silicon Valley, companies’ fortunes have been on the rise, but their hiring has not.
Workers who have managed to keep their jobs understand that they could be shown the door next. And so they keep their heads down and work, work, work.
Rather than taking luxury vacations, many workers are now taking vacation as a luxury. Yes, the vast majority of workers surveyed were entitled to paid time off, but a third said they wouldn’t use all the vacation they had coming.
Others find ways to work while they are on vacation — trading rest and relaxation for return on investment. Those who used to write postcards to the office saying “Wish you were here,” now seem to be thinking, “Wish I were there.”
Some of those cutting their vacations short may not want to risk sending the message that the company can do without them. Others must wonder what good a vacation is when they return to a mountain of work that piled up while they were relaxing.
Does any of this matter? Well, yes.
Overwork can hurt our work life and our family life. Too much work leads to mistakes on the job. And it makes people cranky, to use the technical term, meaning overworked workers are no fun to be around at home.
The Families and Work Institute’s report this month found that those who are overworked were more likely to be depressed, more likely to say their health is poor and more likely to be ticked off at their bosses for expecting so much.
Is there hope? The Families and Work Institute thinks so.
Employers, they say, need to encourage workers to take time off, to have a life outside work. They need to set realistic deadlines and boundaries for when an employee can be disturbed during off hours. Is that likely to happen? Not very.
But if it doesn’t, companies risk killing the goose that lays the golden egg.
Quite literally, it seems.
Mike Cassidy is a columnist for the San Jose Mercury News