When it comes down to it, we need just as much relationship counseling for our relationship with our work lives as we do with our spouses. And the latter may be the truly dysfunctional one.
Written By Naomi Grunditz
America has the highest divorce rate in the world. We also have one of the most stressed out and over-worked workforces in the world. More and more, I believe these two facts are more than coincidences.
Let’s look at some sobering statistics about our relationship with work:
- 85.8 % of males and 66.5 % of females work over 40 hours/week.
- According to the International Labour Organization (ILO), “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.”
- The average productivity per American worker has gone up 400% since 1950.
- 65% of workers in a 2000 Integra Survey reported that workplace stress had caused life difficulties.
- In that same survey, “62% of workers reported ending the work day with work-related neck pain, 44% reported stressed-out eyes, 38% complained of hurting hands and 34% reported difficulty in sleeping because they were too stressed-out.”
- In California, the number of Workers’ compensation claims for mental stress increased by almost 700 percent over eight years.[i]
At least 134 countries have laws setting the maximum length of the workweek—the U.S. is not one of them. Here’s the link to a depressing graph from a 2007 study by the Center for Economic and Policy Research regarding the number of paid vacation days and holidays among various nations. [ii] The U.S. falls dead last.
The American workforce as a whole—from low income to high—is overworked, underslept, and stressed out. Workplace stress can come from long hours, perceived lack of control, pressure to perform, low pay, high-risk activities and/or non-stop deadlines. Not to mention the associated stress caused by trying to run and manage your non-work life in the little time that the ever-growing workweek affords you.
Our marriages and quality of life are suffering as a result. “Work and family are two major domains in our lives,” writes Nicole A. Roberts and Robert W. Levenson in the Journal of Marriage and Family. “Experiences from one domain can spill over into, or impact, the other.” After following 19 couples for month with self-reported “stress diaries” and therapy meetings, the authors found that stressful experiences at work significantly impacted the emotional environment at home. After stressful days at work both spouses were more psysiologically aroused (“on edge” in flight-or-flight mode) and reported more negative feelings and/or lack of emotional engagement. All these are indicators of “heightened risk for poor marital outcome;” read: divorce.
Stress damages marriages, as do exhaustion and the time-suck of our long workdays. With all our hours spent working, we have little left over to truly focus on our relationships and ourselves. And so much of making marriage work is simply making time for it—time where you can relax and just be together, reminded of how safe, supported and playful you are with each other. In addition to making more space for your relationship, it is essential to have time to nurture your own spiritual, physical and emotional needs. This will ensure that you come to your marriage as a calm, fulfilled and loving partner.
The situation gets even more complicated with children in the mix. Raising children is an additional stress on marriages. And at the same time, presents another relationship that needs to be fostered. High parental involvement is linked to children’s healthy emotional development, school performance and even reduced juvenile crime.[iii] Further research supports a link between “workaholic” parents and mental health difficulties with children later on in life. A 1998 study published in The American Journal of Family Therapy found that “Children of workaholic fathers not only had greater depression and external locus of control but also scored higher on anxiety.”[iv] But as parents we are caught in a terrible catch-22: often we work these long, hard hours to support our children; in return, our relationship with them suffers.
Some companies are taking steps towards promoting a healthy work-life balance including flextime and easy parental leave. Both Fortune and Working Mother magazines publish yearly lists of companies that rank high in these areas, and I’m encouraged to see this trend growing. At the same time, I fear that any sort of government labor reforms or large-scale changes in business culture are far off. Large ships change course slowly. To that end, pushing for changes in these areas—to make marriage easier as well as making divorce more difficult—should be the next step for divorce reform.
In the meantime, the fate of work-life balance is in the hands of individuals. If you feel that your work is getting in the way of your family and personal wellbeing—even if your hours are the norm in your office—there are steps you can take. Perhaps you can ask for fewer hours at work, to take a week’s vacation purely for your mental health, to work from home half the time, or to take an unpaid leave to care for a family member. (Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for answers to questions on your as a worker).
Unfortunately with the current bleak economy, you may not feel this is a time you can afford to mess with the system. Personally, I feel pressure to tow the line and take as much and whatever work I can get my hands on. Perhaps we can tackle the work problem from the other end. We work to support ourselves, to put food on the table and maintain our lifestyle. Maybe we can reduce our need to work by reducing what we need to support. Most likely there are a myriad number of little things at
Home that you can change or do without that will let you live a simpler and cheaper life. The less you need to focus on obtaining and maintaining all the “stuff” in your life, the more time you have to focus on what truly matters: your wellbeing and your relationships.
[i] The American Institute of Stress. “Job Stress.” http://www.stress.org/job.htm
[ii] Ray, Rebecca and John Schmitt. 2007. “No Vacation Nation.” The Center for Economic and Policy Research. http://www.cepr.net/documents/publications/2007-05-no-vacation-nation.pdf
[iii] Allen, Sarah and Kerry Daly, 2001. “The Effects of Father Involvement: An Updated Research Summary of the Evidence Inventory.” Centre for Families, Work & Well-Being, University of Guelph.
[iv] Robinsona, Bryan E. & Lisa Kelleya. 1998. “Adult children of workaholics: Self-concept, anxiety, depression, and locus of control.” The American Journal of Family Therapy, Volume 26, Issue 3; pp. 223-238
Naomi, my dear, I think you have very clearly demonstrated a link between the workaholic culture and the divorce culture. As you conclude, many feel they must work so hard and so much to maintain a certain lifestyle or, in some cases, just to put food on the table! I do think we ought to re-think our priorities. Ask ourselves, at the end of it all what’s important? Loving, healthy relationships with our children, friends and families or a lot of stuff? Perhaps we can reduce the things it takes to thrive. I’m sure that the God who created us all didn’t mean for living to be this complicated. Thank you for such an in-depth look at this problem. The stats alone are sobering!
Spot on comment: “I’m sure that the God who created us all didn’t mean for living to be this complicated.” If I were to write a longer article, I would love to bring in the teachings of numerous world religions which all tell us that the chatter of daily life is insignificant compared to love, the love for each other, our families, and God. We know this deep down and logically, yet it is so easy to become swept up by the anxiety and pressure of modern life which is based on endless consumption. A spiritual practice–whether prayer, text study, or meditation–is a wonderful way to bring back our hearts and minds to the true nature and peace of existence.
Perhaps you could provide some good examples or research of successful work/life balance. I think it stems from ones reasoning on what is an ‘acceptable level’. And it seems at every socioeconomic stage this “level” changes.
1.The country club, exclusive educations, and intercontinental vacations are minimal.
2. Two week vacations, dinners, and private school.
3. Three bedroom home, mortgage and car payment.
4. Nice rental, dinner out, and an occasional show or entertainment.
5. Minimal housing, food, no dinners out, no shows, no vacations, no employment plenty of time for “love, kids, relationships” but instead the grind of existence living.
And each level below seems to think the other above is “irresponsible”.
Great points! There are many excellent articles on work/life balance. I suggest reading “The relation between work–family balance and quality of life” Greenhaus et al. Journal of Vocational Behavior 63;3:510–531. In all these studies, the “success” of w/l balance is based on individuals self-reported happiness. There is no one-size-fits-all formula for how much leisure time vs. work time vs. family time will make you happy. I hope that my article encourages people to examine their own living patterns and make whatever changes that suit them. As the Greenhaus paper concludes, those who spend more time focused on family than work report greater overall happiness. You bring up a key point, though, in that this balance must be voluntary. A father who is unemployed and spending time at home barely surviving will likely experience more stress and unhappiness. I think the key issue is empowering people to have control over their happiness by eliminating unnecessary stressors in their lives–possessions or work obligations. Unfortunately, this is indeed a luxury many struggling people cannot afford.