Working for a Dying


We are working extreme hours sometimes at multiple jobs just to make ends meet. Some of this is due to our unrealistic standards of what it means to have it all, including the perfect family life, but some of it is due to good old corporate greed.

Some researchers like Ann Burnett have tracked the rise of busyness as a sign of importance and status. Just consider the language we use in a common greeting. “How are you?” “Fried. You?” “Same.” When was the last time someone said, “I’ve been doing absolutely nothing”? This is putting a strain on us all, especially on working mothers who have their own set of unrealistic standards.

Stewart D. Friedman’s Baby Bust shows that many young people are just choosing not to have families at all because they can’t figure out how to balance a work and family life.

During the recession as more employees were laid off their work was dumped on the remaining workforce without a raise to match, yet productivity has kept increasing every year…not good for workers, but great for corporations.


The personal stories of elderly ladies picking up too many heavy boxes and throwing out their backs, or having anxiety attacks because they have to keep increasing productivity is a sad reflection of what we give value to. This taxing overwork and stress is spread out all over America and everyone except the top 1% is feeling the burden, from blue collar to white collar jobs, from maids, to surgeons, to teachers.

Some countries around the world are trying to put policies into place to help workers balance work and family life. Germany keeps unemployment low by spreading out the work hours over more workers. Denmark gives both fathers and mothers two “nurture days” per child until the child turns eight. And the UK has a “Right to Request” flexible hours giving employees flexibility over their schedules. Business has carried on as usual. The U.S. actually falls behind countries with more sensible “work-life” policies like France.

The corporations are benefiting from overwork, and employees feel like they can not quit. I know that sounds crass, after all we need jobs to provide for our families, but I think we need to re-evaluate what “provide” means. What is keeping us from adopting a more simple way of living that requires less money and less work?

What do you think it would take to move away from valuing busyness and stress as markers of success?

Read more: America’s Workers: Stressed Out, Overwhelmed, Totally Exhausted



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