America’s Balancing Act in The Workforce

What is an ideal work life balance? I believe the answer to that question depends on who you ask. I don’t think many Americans strive for a good work life balance, but maybe we should… or even just take it into consideration. In America, the traditional work week is forty hours to be considered a full-time employee, although many workers in other countries work less and can afford to live a more balanced lifestyle. I can’t help but question why we are so far behind other developed countries when it comes to offering employees a shortened work week.

Why should employers think about shortening their work week? Well for one, the longer work week isn’t all that effective. But, what about the employees? How do we find work that is better suited for our needs? Well, to decide what works best for us, we must establish how much of an income we truly need to survive and thrive. In other words, it starts with being mindful of our lifestyle. Take a look at what your priorities are in relation to how much you must work in order to live comfortably in your geographical location.

Sometimes where you live is the biggest issue. For example I have a lot of personal experience with living in an area that is far too expensive for our means. I moved to New Hampshire from New Jersey almost two years ago and I can honestly tell you that it was one of hardest things I have ever had to do. I loved New Jersey and it will always be my home state, but I knew that I would have to make some big changes if I wanted to move on with my life. The job market in the garden state was horrific. It didn’t matter if you had a bachelor’s, or even a master’s degree. There were far too many people and not anywhere close to enough jobs. The cost of homes sky-rocketed and the take-home wages plummeted. I knew that if I wanted to move out then that would mean moving out of state. I knew a woman who worked as a lead preschool teacher and made $12 an hour with a master’s degree. This wasn’t just in the education field, though, this was everywhere. I would go on Indeed and look for jobs only to find that over two hundred applicants had applied for a position that paid only a few dollars above the minimum wage. In NJ, it is culturally acceptable to live with your parents until you are well into your thirties because you can’t get an apartment for less than $1,400 each month. It is honestly pretty sad. It is a beautiful place (Don’t believe the whole armpit thing). Although, unless you have a very high-paying job, it is a prime example of a place that is far too expensive to live without working well above a 40 hour work week.

Becoming more mindful of our work life balance starts with examining our living expenses. There is very little room for discussion if we can hardly afford milk and bread. Sometimes our lifestyles are immensely stressful due to just trying to survive. Many Americans have gone into autopilot  in order to work several jobs and support their families. At times, we are forced to choose between healthy food, shelter, and pharmaceutical medication.

I am not so naive to think that so many of us are starving, but some of us are just not asking ourselves the tough questions. “What do we really want out of life?” I have been  asking myself this question a lot lately.

Being 24 years old and a transfer student who has one more semester left of school, there isn’t much I’m not worrying about in terms of my future. I’m also trying to learn that I can’t map out the road ahead of me as much as I’d like to. According to G.E. Miller, contributing writer for 20somethingfinance.com, “In 1960, only 20 percent of mothers worked. Today, 70 percent of American children live in households where all adults are employed.” I am not against both parents working. I am against the reality where there are people that do not have a choice. Sure, mothers can decide to quit their jobs and raise their children, but what if that is not what they actually want? It should not be viewed as inappropriate for a man or woman to discuss their work schedule with an employer after their child is born. It is acceptable in many other countries for parents to cut back on work hours after having a baby or to expect paid maternity or paternity leave. American citizens are not given anything as a guarantee. According to  Miller, “The U.S. is the ONLY country in the Americas without a national paid parental leave benefit. The average is over 12 weeks of paid leave anywhere other than Europe and over 20 weeks in Europe.” I don’t understand why we are so behind in our laws regarding paid leave. Women are often forced to hold off on having children of their own because they are scared that they will not still have a job to come back to. We shouldn’t be forced into deciding whether we want to have families or progress in our careers. I think we as Americans try to pretend our working conditions are ideal. We don’t want to complain too much because we feel powerless. We also know that many people in developing countries have it far worse than us. It doesn’t quite seem right to complain about our working conditions when there are people out there that do not have running water.

Have you ever visited a job site and noticed that many jobs ask that applicants are prepared to work some late nights and/or possibly some rotating weekends. “At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the work week; the U.S. does not.” (G.E. Miller) How are people supposed to plan anything for themselves if they are constantly on call for their jobs. Employers should not have the authority to dictate whatever ludicrous rules they see fit onto their employees. We are not numbers. We are people. People that have lives outside of work.

It’s not just the on call nature of our work life balance though, we also work a lot more than what we have agreed is a full time workload. “In the U.S., 85.8 percent of males and 66.5 percent of females work more than 40 hours per week.” (G.E. Miller) Many jobs simply list that they are looking for full time employees, yet they don’t state that these full time hours are beyond a forty hour work week. “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers.” (G.E. Miller)

And what do we get in return for all those hours? Well, there is not a federal law requiring paid sick days in the United States and the U.S. remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no legally mandated annual leave. “In every country included except Canada and Japan (and the U.S., which averages 13 days/per year), workers get at least 20 paid vacation days.  In France and Finland, they get 30 – an entire month off, paid, every year.” (G.E. Miller)

We should examine our lifestyles and our goals to see what our needs and wants actually are. Then we need to find the balance where we are working enough to achieve those goals, but not so much that we burn ourselves out.

Written by 

One thought on “America’s Balancing Act in The Workforce

  1. “Becoming more mindful of our work life balance starts with examining our living expenses. There is very little room for discussion if we can hardly afford milk and bread. Sometimes our lifestyles are immensely stressful due to just trying to survive. Many Americans have gone into autopilot in order to work several jobs and support their families. At times, we are forced to choose between healthy food, shelter, and pharmaceutical medication.”

    I appreciate that you are highlighting this issue, as it is the reality for far too many citizens in a country of such wealth. Balance cannot be achieved for those already in the water clinging to the lifeboat and yet it remains vitally important for every human.

    Your construction and connectivity are working well in this essay, and I appreciate the factual data you’ve included–all of it is relevant and supports your idea of balance.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *