Vocation is a very important part of our lives in today’s society. Vocation, usually, gives our lives a sense of purpose. At times, however, our vocation can get in the way of our lives. How? Overwork. This past summer, I linked to a couple of articles at The Atlantic that illustrate this point quite perfectly. The first: No-Vacation Nation: Why Don’t Americans Know How to Take a Break?. And the second: The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks Are Good for Productivity.
There’s a really important graphic from the first link. I’ve included it below, (but if it’s too hard to read, click on it and it will take you to a bigger version of it).
If you’ll notice, the US is absolute last on this list of OECD countries. Certainly not something that the US should be proud of.
Earlier this fall, I posted a TEDTalk of someone from the New Economics Foundation arguing for a 21-hour workweek. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news release that the head of the Max Planck research centre was arguing for a 25-hour workweek. There are some key points:
When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands.
This scenario probably sounds familiar to many people today. But there are good arguments for changing this. We should aim for more leisure time in our youth and instead work a bit more when we get older.
”There is strong evidence that elderly people who work part-time are healthier than those who don’t work at all and just sit at home. This is simply because working improves people’s health,” he says.
“The benefits are not just psychological because being an active part of society makes you people feel good about themselves, but also physically, since you use both your brain and your body when you’re working.”
There are also some good interpersonal arguments in support of spreading our working hours over a longer period in our lives.
”The main argument is that this would give young people aged 20-30 more time to care for their children, do sports and other important activities that improve their lives,” says the professor.
”The way it is today, young people are slaving their way through work, looking forward to a long retirement. But why not move that retirement period around a bit so that young people get more valuable time off work?”
How does all of that sound?
The thing is, there’s a culture of overworking. Working 60+ hours a week should not be a badge of honor — it should be a badge of ludicrousness (save for some extreme examples). Vocation is important, yes, but so are other things in life. And, if productivity is what you’re after, it’s important to understand that overworking one’s self is the perfect way to limit productivity. Remember that second link I share above:
It’s typical for families to celebrate the month of August by shutting down the computer and skipping town. From a raw numbers perspective, this counts as lost work. But that’s a short-sighted view, psychologists now say. In fact, by serving as the least productive month for millions of workers, August unexpectedly serves as a productivity-booster.
Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers, Businessweek reported in 2007. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing told ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”
As with most things in business and in life, understanding the different between long-term gains and short-term profits is of the utmost importance with regard to the issue of the workweek.