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Workaholism In America Is Hurting the Economy 710

An anonymous reader writes Work/life balance is a constant problem in the tech industry. Even though experienced and mature engineers have been vocal in fighting it, every new generation buys into the American cultural identity of excessive work being a virtue. Each generation suffers for it, and the economy does, too. This article backs up that wisdom with hard numbers: "The 40-hour workweek is mostly a thing of the past. Ninety-four percent of professional workers put in 50 or more hours, and nearly half work 65 or above. All workers have managed to cut down on our time on the job by 112 hours over the last 40 years, but we're far behind other countries: The French cut down by 491 hours, the Dutch by 425, and Canadians by 215 in the same time period. ... This overwork shows up in our sleep. Out of five developed peers, four other countries sleep more than us. That has again worsened over the years. In 1942, more than 80 percent of Americans slept seven hours a night or more. Today, 40 percent sleep six hours or less. A lack of sleep makes us poorer workers: People who sleep less than seven hours a night have a much harder time concentrating and getting work done."
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Workaholism In America Is Hurting the Economy

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:16PM (#47311145)

    Not seeing the outside of an office for most of your adult life is considered as a virtue only by fools. Sadly many will post here supporting this form of modern day slavery.

    The wtf moment of missing what life is all about will come when it is too late.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:17PM (#47311153)
    Calling it "Workaholism" implies we have a choice. Companies are demanding we do more with less. If you don't like it there's not much you can do. The job market sucks, and it's never going to get any better. Off-shoring and abundant work Visas guarantee that. You're given X amount of work to do and Y amount of time and if you don't do X you're fired, so you put in extra hours. Again and again and again. Heck, it's even worse for the Visa holders. They're practically indentured serfs. If they don't put the hours in it's back to where they came from with a black mark to boot. And those are the guys we're competing with for jobs....

    Heck, is it just me or can nobody in the American Media do anything except blame the workers? Maybe it's because the capitalists own the media... Heck, I don't know.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:19PM (#47311173)

    This is very true. Loved computers growing up, got into programming and IT desktop, severs and infrastructure and after 20 years I can't stand doing it anymore. I am trying to figure out a career change that I can get enthusiastic about but not financially devastate me. It hasn't been an easy experience.

  • by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:35PM (#47311289) Homepage Journal

    Your mileage may vary I suppose. I've been working in IS/IT for over twenty years now. I've programmed, done tech support, went into server and network infrastructure, then operations and project management for some years, now I'm back in an engineering role doing security work. I love my job. I look forward to it almost each and every day (I say almost because we *all* have bad days at work and in life). I guess I'm lucky for that. I really love my job, the company I work for, and my peers. The pay is awesome as well. Sure sometimes the hours get long and sometimes there are frustrations, but all in all I can't imagine being happier with a career path, realistically speaking.

  • by antifoidulus ( 807088 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:44PM (#47311355) Homepage Journal
    To see how workaholism saps productivity and rarely leads to better results, look at Japan. Overtime is sacrosanct in Japan, at the company I worked at previously it was a badge of honor that the average amount of overtime was 60 hours a month. Japan has the lowest per-hour output in the G7 [wikipedia.org], and it's a small wonder why. Managers will often times not buy hardware that can increase productivity because hey, you can simply make the workers work longer hours for free, whereas hardware costs money. The result is a populace that is unhappy, unhealthy, and well dying. The low birth rate is well known, what is less well known is that the Japanese have the least amount of sex in the developed world. The technology industry that everyone once thought would rule the world has come to be dominated by the west because managers have very little incentive to innovate, to increase productivity. And as the cherry on the shit sundae, the low productivity means that wages in Japan are lower, i.e. longer hours for less money. Trust me, you don't want to go down this route.
  • by NotSoHeavyD3 ( 1400425 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:46PM (#47311373)
    If everything I've read about it is true(and I mentioned this in another article here on /.) you literally can't get more than 40 hours of work out of people anyway. Oh sure, the first couple of weeks they do more work but then they get tired and slow and make mistakes. After a few weeks of that they're working more than 40 hours but aren't producing any more work. Go ahead, read stuff like Peopleware where they point this out. (That working overtime makes no sense, you don't get anything but pissed off employees.) Before anybody asks, no I don't work more than 40 hours a week. (And yes one of the big reasons is I'm old enough to recognize I don't get any more work done if I do. Plus the fact you do it and your manager quickly abuses it.)
  • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @08:57PM (#47311447)

    Variety is important for a healthy life.

    Variety is also important for a good job. Take on different assignments, learn new skills, volunteer to fly to Mongolia to get the new team up to speed, etc.

    Disclaimer: If you actually do volunteer to go to Mongolia, try to go in the summer or autumn. The winters in Ulan Bator are really harsh. Also, it is not a great place for vegetarians.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:00PM (#47311467)

    Blame the workers is easy. This was going on in the 1990s when the economy was shit then, blaming the lazy Americans compared to the Japanese who would work 100+ hours/week and come back for more.

    Now, Americans work more hours than the Japanese, and now they are considered "lazy and entitled" compared to the H-1Bs now.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:06PM (#47311503) Homepage

    This country is losing it. Don't know if you realize it my fellow citizens, but you are getting your ass kicked in the world. Socialism is not working.

    That's because whenever you try something socialist-ish it's implemented as corporate welfare. Instead of taxing the corporations and helping the people you're bailing out the corporations and handing the bill to the people. Your version of Robin Hood would involve trying to get a trickle-down effect by handing the sheriff of Nottingham more money so he could hire more tax collectors and guards. Or to use a car analogy it's like stabbing the tires and pouring sugar in the gas tank, then comparing it to a horse.

  • by rabbin ( 2700077 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:07PM (#47311513)
    Yeah, nevermind that workaholism makes the overwhelming majority of people miserable--certainly that couldn't be more of a reason (or even a sufficient reason) to be concerned. Would someone please think of the upper class's ability to maximize profits by squeezing the life out of the working cla--I mean the Economy, would someone please think of the Economy?
  • by Tuidjy ( 321055 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:18PM (#47311585)

    I got excited about computers when I saw a computer with BASIC in a chain store in the early 80's. Must have been a Vic20.

    I took an 'Informatics' High School curriculum, got an M.Eng. in Computer Science, and started as 'The Computer guy' in a small, privately owned manufacturing company. Now the company has four plants, 50 warehouses, 600 PCs, and my card says CTO. I still do some programming on the job, but it's probably less than 5 hours per week.

    But in my spare time, I take on real programming projects. My last three were a IDE interface for company that uses hardware that is WAY too old, a computer vision search tool, and a video game AI module. I earn more outside of my day job, and have to refuse projects... but of course the day job comes with security and health insurance.

    But, yeah, mileage varies. There is nothing I would rather do to earn money than write code for applications where a small memory footprint and execution speed are the first priority. This has not changed since 1988, except that since then I've decided that maybe I can afford to use C as opposed to assembly. And, yeah, I have written AI routines for two games released in 2013 in plain old C, because pointy headed bastards think that AI does not deserve ANY resources...

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:22PM (#47311615)

    You seem to be suggesting that only people from a certain generation are applying for jobs. That just isn't the case. I'm 37 and along with 100 other people was laid off in February from a job I spent 9 years at. I would have gladly spent another 9 years there. I'd love to find somewhere to spend the next 9 years. I've been looking but the jobs aren't there. A few entry-level zero benefit positions here and there, like "network engineer" requiring nothing but HS/GED and the bulk of the job description is hauling servers around. Get fucked. At some point soon I'll have to take a job at Home Depot or something to keep the bills paid.

    I don't blame the state of the economy, the economy by and large is doing alright. I blame the companies who continue their greedy race to the bottom. 100+ hard working loyal employees laid off, replaced less than two months later with 30+ fresh college grads and a 50+ "offsite team" in India, despite the jobs never being posted anywhere. I guarantee you bonuses were handed out all up the chain, I guarantee you the business will be hamstrung for the next 6-12 months as the new hires get acquainted to their job and the whole company figures out how the fuck to deal with India. But that's just dandy because nobody looks beyond the quarterly report. Execs and upper management figure 6-12 months from now will be somebody else's problem.

    The entitled generation you mention, they seem like the only ones who are getting jobs now because many can afford to work for peanuts. I have a wife, and a mortgage. $8 an hour hauling servers around isn't going to cut it.

  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:29PM (#47311653)

    everyone gives you the stink-eye, if you head for the door before 6PM.

    Look at Yahoo! and their recent policy on telecommuting. It used to be you'd get your assignment done. Whether it takes you 30, 40 or 50 hours per week, nobody will know. Now, you've got to make your appearance at the office where everyone judges you by seat time instead of productivity.

    You can land the best job, but when some asshat takes over as boss, it's all over.

  • by WillKemp ( 1338605 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:30PM (#47311661) Homepage

    Nah,. I'm 56 and i've had that attitude all my life. I'm not rich, but i'm a lot happier than i would be if i'd spent all my life working in a crap job just for the money. And i've done a lot of really interesting jobs - in possibly as many as 30 quite different occupations, from builder to seaman, from computer programmer to miner, from taxi driver to technical adviser in Afghanistan. Life's too short to stick at crap jobs for long!

  • 94%, really? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JeffOwl ( 2858633 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @09:33PM (#47311689)
    Does anyone else find that 94% figure for professionals working more than 50 hours a week rather high? I know it isn't anywhere near that where I work and we are relatively well paid.
  • by Kittenman ( 971447 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:16PM (#47311905)
    I worked in the UK in the late 90s for a multinational. The company sent me to Philadelphia for an interview. Offer included two weeks holiday a year. I asked the recruiter why this was so low (in the UK it was four) - she replied that the folks there really loved to work.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:30PM (#47311967)

    Yeap, everyone is an above average driver too.... In aggregate, companies saw TOTAL output in factories increase when moving from 10 hour to 8 hour workdays. There are far fewer studies for jobs where thinking is a major work product, but the few I've seen imply that 40 might be HIGH for those positions.

  • by iONiUM ( 530420 ) on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @10:49PM (#47312049) Journal

    You're a CTO of a company with 4 plants, and you make more doing after hours work than what your job pays you? I'm not sure what to make of that, except that perhaps you're underpaid, and also appear to be working insane hours.

    I also love my job, and what I do, but there is a balance, and I like my life outside of work as well and am glad to make enough from it to not have to worry.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday June 24, 2014 @11:33PM (#47312223)

    Same here. I was involved in nuclear power then radiological controls. Got sick of that, took a huge pay cut and left. Started near the bottom of IT making in the $30's and worked my up into a position in the $150K range in 13 years. I'm now in my mid 40's. The bell is ringing again and it's time to move on to something else. This time something much different. A plumbers helper, stocking shelves at a home improvement store. Something where I put in an honest 6-8 hours a day and go home and be 100% away from work. Something I haven't had since high school. I live in the same house I did when I was making $30K/year and I still have cheap used cars. Everything I have is 100% paid for because I did not increase my recurring monthly costs as my pay went up.

  • by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot@nOSpam.worf.net> on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @01:16AM (#47312653)

    The irony of the whole thing is that it's a death spiral. By asking employees to do more with less and get less sleep, their health suffers which is a negative on the company in MANY ways. First, tired workers simply are less productive, period. It's very possible that the 10, 12 hour days they're putting in they're simply not going to be as productive than if you forced them to go home after 8 and let them have a good rest, ready to take on the challenge tomorrow.

    Second, there are health issues.First, weakened immune systems mean workers get sicker easier. And sick employees almost always come to work (a term we call "presenteeism", the opposite of absenteeism). Well, you have a sniffling, sneezing, coughing worker spreading their germs to everyone. What's THAT going to do for productivity?

    Third, safety and quality. A tired worker just isn't safe, period. Accidents in the workplace, increased workplace compensation costs. Quality goes down because workers are less attentive and less likely to spot flaws.

    Of course, short term crunches do work. In the short term. Once they become chronic, well, the whole workplace suffers and you end up at some middling level of productivity caused by sick employees, tired less productive employees, and the lack of safety and quality in the final product.

    Perhaps the phrase "they don't make 'em like they used to" might actually be true - workers end up producing crap because they're too tired to take pride in their work and to do a good job!

    The other problem is cultural - who hasn't heard the old brag "I work hard! I did 100 hours last week!" as if working long days at the office was something to be proud of?

    Finally, we're not Japanese. The Japanese get away with overwork because companies generally care about their employees - they get hired from university or high school and work until retirement where their every need is taken care of, including family. Here you're lucky to even get a email on your birthday or anniversary.

    But I suppose that's what happens when you boil everything down to numbers.

    Small anecdote - there was a company that bought a bunch of coconuts for their ship's provisions. They usually bought 100 coconuts a day, at around $1 a coconut. They asked how much it would be if they increased their order to 200 coconuts a day. The price rose to $2 a coconut! (you'd expect what, 75 cents or so, right?). The reason is that the coconut gatherer would have to work that much harder to collect their 200 coconuts, the increase in stress and longer working hours meant in effect the guy had to do a lot more, and earn less on it, and that's bad for business when your employees have to work their butts off just to be in the same place.

  • by Nemyst ( 1383049 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @02:18AM (#47312837) Homepage
    That's amusing, implying the Democrats are socialist. You guys in the US have this big boogeyman in the socialist policy (still stuck in cold war thinking perhaps?), but you haven't even seen what it actually is like. Your left-wing parties and ideas are every other country's right-wing.
  • by Tuidjy ( 321055 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @03:33AM (#47313101)

    My salary is below 150K. We're an aftermarket automotive manufacturer, and times have been better.

    Last year, I declared 170K from programing projects.

    I billed anywhere from $110 to $350 per hour for side projects, and I prefer negotiating for payment upon completion rather than having to give an estimate, and charging per the hour. Many customers prefer it this way, are ready to just pay 5-10K to get something done, and do not really care how long it takes me, as long as I'm done before they need the results This is especially true for companies who are forced to migrate from one application to another, and who do not want to pay a new service provider to transfer old data to the new system, but still want to be able to access it.

    It takes a fraction of a weekend to write a program to pull the data from a ADP payroll database, a Kronos timekeeper system, a Business Works Accounts Payable module, a Solomon Ledger, etc... transfer it to MariaDB and throw together a few reports that can answer 99% of the client questions about their past history.

    Service providers easily charge 50k+ for stuff like this. Big companies pay without a second thought, but privately owned shops balk. And people in the same industrial parks talk to each other... to the point that I simply do not have the time to take all the lucrative projects that come my way. (Or the inclination, really. Computer vision and game AI is what really gets my attention nowadays.)

  • by zijus ( 754409 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @04:08AM (#47313199)
    Hi there. IMO this is to be linked to the cult of "work hard play hard". The problem is... always over-driving one's life, leads faster to problems. Playing too hard also leads to problems. Hopping to balance one's over-work by some over-play is - maybe counter-intuitively for some - not a sollution. In french it is named "sur-régime" : if you always drive a car with the engine spinning well beyond what's necessary, well you may go faster, but you will certainly die earlier. Over-performing, over-working, and so on, has a cost. Ciao.
  • by Jesrad ( 716567 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @04:34AM (#47313269) Journal

    you literally can't get more than 40 hours of work out of people anyway.

    Try 20.

    For most of our existence as a species, 18-24 hours of work per week has been the world-wide average [google.fr] time spent satisfying our basic needs. All the rest was leisure, endeavours in curiosity and socializing. This observation still verifies with the few primitive tribes still around. It also verifies in our records of ancestral agricultural tribes. That's the intensity of work our bodies have attuned to over hundreds of thousands of years of recent evolution.

    From my professional experience too it verifies, and I'm curious about what other people may want to report about that. People around me may log long or short hours over the days but once you substract the pauses, all the staring at the screen in a blank mind right after lunch or at the end of the work day, all the heated discussions about this hot topic or that, all the trying to figure out or motivate yourself about what you should be doing next, and concentrate on the actual, value-adding focus and thinking and doing, that's hardly more than 3 to 5 hours a week-day, typically 1-3 hours around 10 in the morning and 2-3 hours around 3 P.M. Even middle management types who try to commit, who show up first and leave last everyday, spend most of their time socializing rather than actually organising things up (basically they're downrate, modernized tribes' chiefs).

    If you've got a flexible enough mind, it's a lot more efficient for you (and healthier and easier and saner and...) to wake up without an alarm clock, and not rush to the office, help yourself with organising your tasks with basic methodology, then get stuff done in those 4-5 hours. And outside of those hours relax, talk with your colleagues, allow yourself to enjoy your lunch, etc. There's litterally no point trying to force it beyond that.

    Also, you'll benefit immensely from cutting the crap out of your life at home too. Stop inflicting incessant news updates, FB status updates, tweets and 24/7 information TV on yourself, your brain is NOT built for that kind of abuse. Stop thinking in terms of pain/gain balance: an hour of treadmilling is not compensating a handful of cupcakes, not in any way you can measure utility for yourself, ever ; and similarly inflicting huge stress and deadlines and job abuse on yourself so you can then indulge in a more wasteful home and car and lifestyle is NOT balanced either.

    That one most precious but limited resource that you have in a basically fixed amount for life: your time... stop throwing it away so liberally. You just need to spend half as much as your income [mrmoneymustache.com] (give or take a quarter of your income, there's quite a margin) and then you can get retired in your 30s (or 40s if you're already late in the game), even on a $40-50 000/year job.

  • by thegarbz ( 1787294 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @05:44AM (#47313427)

    Generous vacation allowance? Your generous vacation allowance is less then the government mandated minimum in many other countries, yet somehow you still feel you're being treated very generously. It goes further than that here too. Most companies will give you a leave loading of around 15%. That's right you get paid 15% more to go on holiday than you do to work.

    Do you get sick leave too or does that come out of your pay / holiday? Again government mandated in Australia
    What about option to cash in overtime on days in lieu? I work a 37hour week, but I get to do it over 9 days a fortnight. (This is just my job, nothing mandated here).

    So I would have to correct you. It most definitely DOES get better than that. I was recently considering taking up a role in the USA, but I turned it down when I found out what the work conditions were from all the people at the other end who told me that I am crazy and they couldn't wait to trade places with me.

  • Re:40 and done (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Rockoon ( 1252108 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @08:07AM (#47313873)
    Actually thanks in part to people that think just like you, 40 is the bare minimum

    It used to be that there was work that needed to be done, workers did that work until it was done, and then there was no work to be done.

    Now there is work that needs to be done, but workers work until they hit their time quota rather than until the work is done. Sometimes they finish the work before the time quota is satisfied, and sometimes they dont finish the work.

    All the negatives you can think of stem from time quotas having been forced upon the various industries that do not naturally have time-based workloads.

    Factories for instance make money per unit of product manufactured, but are forced by-and-large to pay their workers per unit of time T (per hour, per day, etc..). The ramifications of this is that a factory owner is now faced with optimizing a completely artificial situation. They can sell X units per day, but instead of simply making sure that they have enough workers P to produce X units per day, they also must now try to have the amount of workers P that produces X in exactly time T.

    This fucks up everyones incentives. The factory owner now has fucked up incentives, but also the workers too now have fucked up incentives.

    Paid just enough not to quit while working just hard enough not to get fired.

    There is work where the availability of the worker is part of the job, and it is really only these where it isnt completely fucked incentive-wise to pay per unit time.

    Fucked up incentives lead to inefficiency, and not just for the employer. Everyone is hurt.
  • by Thud457 ( 234763 ) on Wednesday June 25, 2014 @09:08AM (#47314207) Homepage Journal
    80/60/40 years ago, automation was going to lead to a life of leisure for everyone with a 20-hour work week.
    Now those of us that are employed do the work of five people because employers are sitting on record profits and while not hiring more workers. While we have huge numbers of people that can't find work.

As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.