All work and no play is the American Way

Evidence shows that once students graduate and finally land a job, they may find they have little time for anything else but the workplace.

Evidence shows that once students graduate and finally land a job, they may find they have little time for anything else but the workplace.

Students graduating and entering the job market have a lot to contend with. The tumultuous economy has caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket to levels previously unknown outside history books, and increased competition has turned the interview process into a cutthroat contest. Despite those challenges, those who get a job are often left wondering whether they even want it.

Reduced staffs and higher expectations have transformed what it means to work in the United States.

According to the 2009 American Time Use Survey, an annual report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, full-time U.S. workers spend an average of 8.44 hours per weekday at their jobs. As much as 34 percent of that number will spend another 5.13 hours at work on the weekends. Out of the overall labor force, an estimated 85 percent of men and 65 percent of women are working more than 40 hours per week. The expanding standard workday, coupled with a lack of clearly defined leisure days, is, for some, signaling the decline of the traditional 40-hour workweek.

Some experts predict much of this is related to the deflated economy, which has caused companies to let workers go. As staffs get smaller, remaining employees have no choice but to step up and fill in the gaps left by former co-workers.

“Since employers increased the hours of remaining employees so much when they laid off workers last year, the workers are reaching their limits,” economics professor William Holmes said.“Worker productivity would start falling, and employers will soon have to start hiring, since there does seem to be some increase in demand for their products.”

However, Robert Giacalone, a business ethics professor, argued the drive to overwork is ingrained in American culture and exists outside the economic situation.

“The problem of overwork in America is tied to the culture. We are a most materialistic nation,” Giacalone said. “To be a person who overworks is praised, that is what the culture is all about.”

The drive to overwork, Giacolone said, leads to a government that reflects and enforces those values through its labor laws.

“People have come to understand, more money means more happiness,” he said. “In other countries, people want to live more balanced lives. They have different values. We tend to have a very one-sided culture, people will battle for financial payoff, [and] we fight to move up the corporate latter, if you behave according to a particular assumption.”

“Research shows that the fight for money, power and status undermines people’s lives,” he added.

The overworking nature of U.S. businesses is, in a way, reflected in national labor laws. The U.S. is still the only country in the industrialized world that does not have a federally mandated minimum number of paid vacation days.

Another issue comes with getting workers to actually take the vacation days they are given. According to a yearly survey put out by, U.S. workers are increasingly resistant to taking vacations and, even when they’re on vacation, may not be able to separate themselves from work. In 2009, 34 percent of employed adults did not take advantage of all the vacation days they were given, and 24 percent admitted continuing to work even while on vacation time.

Still, many graduating college seniors may not have a choice when entering the job market. In order to land a position, graduates may have to compromise their salary expectations and vacation time to beat out the competition.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the jobless rate for college graduates under 25 was 8 percent in April, up from 6.8 percent in April 2009 and 3.7 percent in April 2007, before the recession.

Human resource management professor Stuart Schmidt said these cutbacks in leisure time and an overemphasis on work can have a negative effect on people’s connections with their families and communities.

“The college graduate is very fortunate if they are able to find a job right after graduation. It’s very normal to be working several part-time jobs, just to make ends meet,” Schmidt said. “We are working more jobs which just adds up to more work, stress, mentally, physically and disengagement from the family. Communities are suffering because people don’t have time to volunteer, they physically just don’t have time.”

Priscilla Ward can be reached at

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