All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, and if we’re not careful it could do the same to us. Today’s job market is looking dismal due to a standardized increase in work hours. If you’re like me, the years of meticulous education, endless studying, papers and tests have left you drained. The only encouragement is the thought of graduation and the promise of a life of normality based on a regular schedule. A traditional 9-to-5 job requires eight disposable hours of zombie work, and then 16 relaxing 60-minute increments full of television, pleasure reading, sleeping and absolutely no homework.
But unfortunately, our generation is finding it harder to grab hold of the American dream job. Forty-hour workweeks have melted away into 45, 50, or even more than 55 hours of tedious labor. Indeed, a 2001 study by the United Nations’ International Labor Organization said that Americans work more hours than almost any other industrialized nation in the world.
German careerists are working 500 hours, or 12 and a half weeks, less than their American counterparts. And while we feel lucky to get two weeks of vacation time per year, the average European is enjoying four to six weeks of time off.
This gap only seems to be broadening. Many American jobs no longer include a paid lunch hour. For these workers, a normal 8-hour workday runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to compensate. While technically maintaining a 40-hour week, many of today’s jobs unfairly have employees away from home for at least 45 hours, and that’s not including travel time.
Imagine holding down an eight to five with an hour commute to and from work. A worker would have to wake up at 6 a.m. just to be ready to leave by 7 a.m., and they wouldn’t get home from work until at least six at night. Suddenly a paid 8-hour day turns into 11 or 12 hours of exhaustion.
One extreme example of long working hours is the truck driving industry. A pending amendment to a federal highway bill would allow truck drivers to work 16-hour days, up from the already outrageous 14 hours some drivers now endure. This number is twice the considered norm and cannot be healthy. Many of the 15,000 truck accidents in the past three years have been blamed on fatigue, and that is sure to increase with this new measure.
Work-related mental and physical fatigue is not something to be taken lightly. Stress can easily lead to increased blood pressure, stroke, heart attack, or, as mentioned, serious accidents.
For most, there is no longer the prospect of early retirement, and even for some people in their 60s slowing down seems to be in jeopardy. The baby boomer generation has not only pushed the lengthening of the workday, but they also are projected to keep working past their standard retirement age.
In fact, an Associated Press poll showed that 63 percent of current employees plan to continue working for pay past retirement. The No. 1 cited reason for this is simply to keep oneself busy, but the not too distant future holds a society where work for pleasure will be nonexistent.
It has all too often been said recently that our generation faces the threat of not receiving the full benefits of Social Security. This makes clear that for most there will be a guaranteed need to work through our 60s just to make ends meet. Generation Y, as we are often called, will not only be working longer hours in our prime to save for our elusive retirement, but when the time comes, we may be forced into continued employment for mere subsistence.
The disturbing reality of this situation will leave our generation uneager to graduate and join the work force. Our American Dream of the perfect 9-to-5 now seems to be further from our grasp as we play an endless, exhausting game of catch-up.
It is up to us to put a stop to this physically and mentally demanding trend. We should work for legislation that will limit the workweek and lower the retirement age. Otherwise, we’ll have to come to grips with the prospect that the best times of our lives may already be behind us.
Jacqueline D’Ercole can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.