I was feeling a little down the other day until I heard my friend John say, “American workers are the best in the world.” There’s 200 plus countries, most people would be thrilled to live in a top twenty country, but to you losers I say, talk to the hand, I’m number one.
I think John meant American workers work as hard or harder than any other nation’s workers. Probably because we’re among the most materialistic people on the planet.
Note what he didn’t say, “American workers are the healthiest in the world.”
When it comes to our commitment to work, don’t you and I, and therefore don’t we collectively, reach a point of diminishing returns? People short change their families and health for the sake of work all the time, but it’s taboo to talk about. Instead we think of the hardest working among us as the most noble. Our culture doesn’t encourage us to say “What’s wrong with you man? Go home and reconnect with the family.” Instead, we say “Damn, that person is a go-getter, a total gamer.”
Our attitudes towards work are culturally determined. Other people in other places think differently than us about work. Recently Sarkozy made waves about extending the French work week from 32 hours to 40. A lot of hardworking Americans bristled at the news and took it as further evidence that the French are hopeless. How dare they try to strike a different balance. The gaul.
Norwegians also strike a different work balance. Typically, they go home at 3:30p.m., their economy somehow hums along, and they spend more time exercising and connecting with family and friends.
And it’s not just the total number of hours we work that matters, it’s the nonstop, intense nature of our worklives.
Picture this. Faculty conference room at Hedmark College University in Hamar, Norway. Monthly social gathering. Candle lit room with beautiful tablecloths. The entire faculty is there, enjoying one another’s company. Stories are told about a few of the faculty. We eat birthday cake and a few bottles of wine are raffled off. Then there’s music, a beautiful instrumental piece performed by two music faculty, one on acoustic guitar and one on flute. Afterwards, people linger into the afternoon.
In fairness, PLU faculty socialize monthly too, on the second Friday of the month, but I’m always anxious to fight the freeway, get home, decompress, and enjoy the evening with my family. In Norway, the pace was much slower. People took time to eat lunch together. Two hour classes had two fifteen minute breaks built into them. People left work earlier.
Could the joke be on us? What if other workers in other countries, whether France, or Norway, or elsewhere are saying, “You’re right, you work the longest hours. Congrats, you win. Guess we’ll have to settle for better health and closer social relations.”