April is Stress Awareness Month and it may come to no surprise that work is the main reason for stress for most people. The American Institute of Stress has some terrifying statistics, including that workload accounts for 46% of our stress, juggling our work and personal lives at 20% and lack of job security affects us 6% of the time, leaving only 28% of stress as personal issues meaning that 72% of our stress is work related. Surprisingly of these statistics, only 25% of people view their work as their number one stress factor.
Many of us are workaholics, especially in the United States. Three years ago, we rank as the fifth most Workaholic County with Japan as number one, but according to the International Labour Organization’s data put out just a few months ago Americans work 137 more hours in a year than Japanese workers. This determination to spend our lives working affects our health in an insane amount of ways. According to the Bureau of labor Statistics, 23% of workers “did some or all of their work at home” and adults 25-54 years of age work an average of 44 hours per week. On average, from holidays, paid-vacation time and sick days, full-time workers in America are allocated 34 days off a year (though no amount of days off is required by law). Only 43% of Americans actually use all of their vacation time in a year, and 40% of American workers do not use their sick time for fear of losing out on pay, missing deadlines or simply feeling like it would be more trouble than it’s work.
In 2008, the Pew Internet & American Life Project put a report out stating that 22% of employees are expected to respond to work emails away from the office, 50% check their emails on the weekend, 46% check emails when they’re home sick, and 34% check when they’re on vacation. I’m extremely guilty of this myself and can only imagine how much these numbers have gone up recently. France just put into law that their citizens do not have to answer their work emails after 6 PM (read more about that here). Is this the world we live in where our governments have to actually force us from working past a typical work day for our health? Perhaps it’s just the push we need.
The Center for Disease Control examined how work-related stress can affect your health. They found that those who have severe work stress are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders, psychological disorders, workplace injuries, cancer, ulcers, impaired immune functions, and even suicide. All this just because we work too much and cannot seem to separate our work from the rest of our lives.
We can all agree there is a serious problem with our addiction to working, but what can we do about it?
A city in Sweden has started a new experiment with the goal of increasing productivity and decreasing stress of workers in Gothenburg. They found that employees that work a normal seven-hour work day are less productive in the last couple of hours since their minds are already on how to spend the rest of their evening and relax after a stressful day. The experiment (which you can read more about here ) is to cut work days to six-hours while still providing the same salary to see how it affects employees.
This would be a great solution for Americans who seem to strive for working those 10-12 hour days on average. But there are three issues with this that may also be a fear of your’s. First, hourly employees who are working hard to either get overtime or work a second job to make as much money as they can on minimum wage jobs will not be able to ever afford to work less just to decrease risk for stress and disease. And second, those on a salary position are more likely to work long hours and make sure all of their projects and assignments get done in order to receive a raise or a glowing reference for future employment. All states are at-will employment, with only eleven that provide an exception of Good Faith. So it may also be that many employees fear that if they don’t work as much as they are asked to, they may lose their jobs.
The way to work less is not an easy solution by any means. One thing that needs to happen – and this is a whole other discussion – is that the federal minimum wage needs to be increased dramatically and a whole lot faster than it’s moving now. On the other hand we need to stop settling for horrible jobs we hate. I’m a strong advocate for keeping a bad job until a better one comes along, but if you’re unhappy where you work or you don’t get paid enough you should be actively looking for a better position. Very rarely will the perfect job just fall into your lap, you have to go out and search through piles and piles of haystacks. If you find a job you love with management that doesn’t overwork you and pay that meets your needs, it’s only natural to assume your stress would decrease.
However, we don’t live in a perfect world. So what can you do in the present to insure you are not stressed out from your job?
Self Care! Self Care! Self Care! I cannot stress this point enough (pun-intended). As an AmeriCorps Volunteer and my main job is to prevent child abuse, I went through a few day-long trainings on how to keep my work from affecting my personal life. I often find myself worrying about clients and their families after work. I even had one week where I worked at the high school for the Challenge Days (look here if you haven’t heard of them ), and after hearing all these kids stories and knowing that on a personal level there was so little I could do to help all of them, I sobbed every night for a week. You may bring your work home in other ways. My mom and my aunt run their own home appraisal businesses and not only do they work from home but they have been known to work well into the late nights and early mornings to get their reports done. Until recently, their work was their lives until they remembered to bring self-care back into their lives.
There are so many things you can do to de-stress and separate yourself from your work depending on what works for you and what you enjoy in your personal life. I’ve included some links for ideas below. What my mom and my aunt found to work best for them is training for various fitness events and sweating out their stress. I’ve found that to be equally helpful on a smaller scale (as in I’m not training for the Ironman anytime soon). My favorite ways to unwind, however, are much more simple and at times slightly juvenile. The basics of my self care include daily yoga and meditation, and after an extremely stressful day I’ll go for a drive in my car and sing along to my music at the top of my lungs, or I’ll play some mindless zombie videogame to put my mind somewhere else. Like I said, you just have find what works for you.
Links for Self Care Ideas