Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Workaholic Nation

Over 33 percent of white collar professionals in such lucrative fields as law, medicine, media, finance and technology put in more than 60 hours a week, and most say they're working an average of 16.5 hours more per week than they did five years ago. This trend is so pronounced that commentators even have a name for what these folks do - "extreme jobs". According to the article at the link below, the trend has multiple causes. The advent of globalization, which requires workers to respond to business partners in different time zones, coupled with the explosion in communications technology, puts us at the beck and call of our bosses and colleagues at all hours of the day and night. The nine-to-five workday is a thing of the past, but most of those with "extreme jobs" are not complaining.

"The big surprise (is) just how much these extreme professionals love their work," said business author Dr. Sylvia Ann Hewlett. "There's something deep in our culture right now which really admires over-the-top pressure, over-the-top performance, over-the-top pay packages." The phenomenon of "extreme jobs" is just one facet of a culture that values going over the top in so many other ways - from the life-threatening imbecilities of extreme sports and the overweening ambition of talentless reality TV stars, to the extreme mother-hennishness of "helicopter parents" and the compulsion to pack into family vacations everything a person could possibly do, other than relax. As a matter of fact, extreme professionals rarely take even strenuous vacations. 42 percent take off 10 days or less per year, while more than half regularly cancel their vacations altogether. The age of moderation is over. It's no longer about leading a balanced life with a place in it for both contemplation and community. It's all about winning at all cost, or die trying.

That dying may get literal. "There's a big undermining of personal health," says Hewlett. "Whether it's addiction to sleep medications or crazy diets because you're traveling all over the world." Two-thirds of these high flyers don't get enough sleep. Many overeat, and what they do eat is more likely to be junk food because they don't have the time to sit down to a home-cooked meal. Their rampant workaholism can also destroy their relationships. Their children languish or rebel, and their spouses get angry. Obsession with work is the fourth largest cause of divorce. It is also implicitly sexist. As Hewlett says, "A business model that requires top to put in 70-hour workweeks for decades at a time seriously excludes women."

What can be done? The experts emphasize that more "flexibility" must be built into the work world. Perhaps there may eventually be something like sabbaticals for executives. Maybe. Or maybe not. Maybe we'll all just work ourselves to death, or die in debt if we don't...

"'Extreme' jobs on the rise" from the Christian Science Monitor

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