A Reflection on an Overworked America

Today, January 31st, is National Plan for a Vacation Day, started by Project: Time Off. The idea is to sit down, review your vacation benefits, and plan your full year of vacation days. By allowing the time to take an account of the full year ahead, it is less likely that days will be forfeited at year’s end. Currently, an alarming 55% of Americans leave at least some of their vacation days  on the table each year.
Americans give up a median of seven days of paid vacation each year – most notably, those  millennials often dubbed as “lazy and privileged”.  Project: Time Off has coined the term ‘work martyr’ to define a certain type of workaholic: a person who does not want to take paid vacation for fear that no one else at the company can do the job as well, they want to show dedication and be irreplaceable, or out of pure guilt. 43% of work martyrs lie between the ages of 18-35.
In an article by 20 Something Finance, we are led to one of the underlying causes of the work martyr syndrome. Though the “average productivity per American worker has increased 400% since 1950” which one could use to infer that the standard of living  has also increased by 4 times, it hasn’t. “Someone is profiting, it’s just not the average American worker.” That ever present voice in the back of our minds whispering that we are replaceable comes from the top, we break our backs for the benefit of their pockets, not ours.
I, myself, have succumbed to the pressures that have created this “all work and no play” environment, so I understand this thought process very well. The overwhelming amounts of stress ultimately led me to reevaluate my goals and quit my corporate job. In a world of super-connectivity, the employee takes on more after-hour tasks than ever before. Due to the easy access of email, text, and social media, we are expected to be on-call at all hours of the day and night, something unprecedented to the generations before us. I will never forget the moment I was told by a superior that they were “disappointed” that I did not answer an email after hours.
This overworked culture has detrimental effects; stress has been named the number one health issue in the US in a number of studies. When employees are overworked, they lose focus, making 20% more mistakes than if they were fully refreshed. On top of that, workers are twice as likely to get sick at a job where they feel insecure, a part of that work martyr mentality. According to a study reported in The Atlantic, work-related stress is “more deadly than diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or influenza.”
The signs are clear, we all need to start taking our vacations and allow ourselves the long overdue time to relax. Remember that a vacation does not always have to consist of an expensive trip, it can be as simple as exploring your own neighborhood. The point is to truly disconnect from the office and allow yourself to take a moment in your own head space, recharging for your return.

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