Dying for a Paycheck

Jeffrey Pfeffer, author of Dying for a Paycheck, recently wrote an article for BBC where he noted the following: “Harmful workplace practices include things like long working hours, work-family conflict, economic insecurity arising from job losses and not having regular or predictable work hours, an absence of job control and, in the US, not having health insurance.”

Workplace stress leads to chronic diseases including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, headaches, depression, and anxiety. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have some stress at work, but there are certainly different levels.

From my experience with my own stress and talking to so many employees over the years, working long and unpredictable hours seems to be the worst for health. When there is no time to fully disconnect and relax, everything suffers – health, relationships, sleep quality. Technology has made the world better and worse all at the same time.

The most interesting point I took from this article is that “long working hours are negatively related to per-hour productivity at both the national and industry level.” If that’s the case, then why are we working so many hours? In the U.S., long hours are some kind of “badge of honor” that people like to brag about. I had a former manager who used to boast about her conference calls that started at 4:00 a.m. and how she worked a full day and then took her last call at 11:00 p.m. and then passed out in her bed in the same clothes she wore all day. Or, a colleague who shared that he hadn't seen his kids for two weeks due to all the late meetings. Or, how a peer's spouse was not happy with him because he is either at work or constantly on his phone and not "present." In my opinion, these situations were not something to aspire to. It was just a sad reality.

As the article also states, there are companies that value employees’ health and giving them a work-life balance. We need to seek out those cultures. Think about it. How many successful companies are there outside the U.S. where employees are expected to work 7.5 to 8 hours per day and are given extremely generous “holiday” time off? They are successful because their employees are not overworked and stressed out, existing on coffee and caffeine drinks to function. These people have time to rest and recover so they are fresh to tackle new challenges.

I believe we all need to ask ourselves why we continue to stay in this unhealthy cycle of “Dying for a Paycheck.” Is it because the long hours make us feel valuable and needed? Is it because we must have the biggest houses and most expensive cars? Is it status we are chasing? Would taking a pay cut in a new role to get some of our life back really be that bad?

It would serve us all well if we focused more on our personal health and wellness and chose employers who support us.

What do you think is the solution to this ongoing problem?