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.
[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