Americans enjoy a strange love affair with the value of hard work. Covers of magazines feature pictures of leaders of industry. The idea that working hard will reap financial rewards reigns so inviolate, it influences entire political belief systems — every school child in the nation has the notion they can grow up to become president ingrained on them — and those receiving welfare for any reason are castigated as lazy.
Plus, Americans already work harder than ever before. For the past 40 years, productivity has soared even as wages remained stagnant. Many in the U.S. must work multiple jobs in order to afford a roof over their heads and food on the table. But what is our worship of hard work doing to our health?
The Physical Impact of Overwork
Physically, the human body can do so much only before reaching the point of collapse. Working 12 or more hours per day can create a ton of health woes. Without adequate rest, the body cannot perform the requisite repair work to heal.
Stress from overwork increases an individuals’ risk of developing heart disease. While further research is needed to understand exactly how overwork strains the body, many scientists believe that stress contributes to negative behaviors such as smoking, drinking alcohol to excess and overeating.
Those who work too much become more prone to chronic disease and pain disorders. In women, neck discomfort often stems from overwork. Men tend to develop lower back pain more often. Those with conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis often report that stress from overwork leads to more painful flares.
Women who work too much can suffer hormonal imbalances making her life a misery. Women under exorbitant amounts of stress may cease menstruating altogether or endure more painful cramping.
The Psychological Impact of Overwork
Working long hours doesn’t exhaust only the physical body. It takes a wearying toll on the mind as well. Those who work more than eight hours daily often find concentration and focus difficult if not impossible, leading to poor business decisions.
Many people who work themselves to the bone go on to develop anxiety and depression. Some may feel their lives consist of nothing more than waking up, working their entire life, and going to bed only to wake up to do it all again. Others panic when not on the clock, feeling as if the world will screech to a halt if they take a day off.
Those who feel overworked often find their personal lives suffering as a result. Working late hours every night leaves partners holding dinner in the oven and makes children feel neglected. Spending every weekend at the office sends loved ones the message they don’t deserve equal time.
Why Do Americans Work So Much?
How can those who feel overworked recapture some of their previous joy in life and protect their health? Individuals can control certain factors regardless of how busy they are.
The U.S. stands unique among developed nations in having no legal requirement for paid time off. Nearly half of all workers will find themselves heading to the office instead of the barbecue pit on Labor Day.
The declining middle class in the nation means many workers find themselves scrambling to make monthly rent payments. Those earning minimum wage cannot afford rent on a two-bedroom apartment anywhere in the nation while working 40 hours per week. As a result, many Americans find themselves flying from one job to the next with little if any break in between.
Given the rise of the gig economy, many such workers cannot afford to take time off as not working means not getting paid. Many report to work even when suffering contagious diseases because the alternative means risking eviction — a death knell for future housing choices. Many new mothers return to work before properly bonding with their babies because they cannot afford to take leave.
Finding Better Work-Life Balance
When economically feasible, working no more than eight hours per day bolsters overall productivity. After this time, productivity plummets and exhaustion seeps in.
Taking vacations matters, too. While not all employers offer paid leave, those who do can encourage employees to use that time to recharge. Myriad studies have revealed those who take regular vacations perform better on the clock.
For those who can’t afford to get away, taking regular breaks can bolster productivity. Even taking a 10-minute stroll around the office building or stopping by the water cooler to catch up on gossip improves focus upon return.
Take a Break!
In the end, enjoying good health means more than any money in the world. Start taking better care of your own health today by giving yourself a break!