Opinion » Note

Nose to the Grindstone

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It's Labor Day and I'm sitting in my office at BWHQ writing this note. I didn't think much of that fact--newsrooms rarely shut down for anything other than Christmas or an especially hung-over New Year's Day--until I came across a headline on Huffington Post (yeah, I read HoPo, sue me): "The Depressing Truth About Labor in America."

I assumed "the depressing truth" was going to be something about low pay or lack of benefits or some other metric that proves just how much we're wailed on compared to various European countries. Data regarding pay (which is vastly lower than in most every other industrialized nation) and benefits (pretty much everybody else in the First World is way better cared for by government and industry) usually paints the picture of an abused American worker. I was a little surprised to read that "the depressing truth" is not that we're underpaid and unloved, it's that we don't know how to quit working.

According to a survey of more than 2,000 workers by market research firm Harris Interactive, 91 percent of employed Americans perform work-related tasks during personal time. That's believable if you count casually checking your work email on a Sunday afternoon, but the data get a little more revealing when the minutes are added up: 37 percent of employed Americans report working 10 or more hours per week during "personal time." That's a lot more effort than simply writing an email or two.

Australians and Brits have similar problems clocking out--90 percent of survey respondents reported doing some work after hours--but only 27 percent and 18 percent, respectively, said they sacrificed 10 or more hours of personal time per week.

We're not very good at taking vacations, either: 50 percent of Americans (and Aussies) said they do some work on vacations, compared to only 34 percent of British workers. Of course, according to data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research, workers in the United Kingdom are guaranteed 28 paid vacation days per year, while Australian employers are mandated to offer 20 days per year (plus eight paid holidays). The number of legally required vacation days/holidays in the United States: zero. Which puts us last among the top 21 economies in the world. Including China. Ouch.

Maybe I'll go home a little early today.