Overworked and overstressed: American workplace culture has negative impact on employees

By Nafina Raha

We all know that America is a country built on business. Money is at the core of everything that happens in our country, whether that is healthcare, education, politics, or sports, and on. This focus on money has led to America being one of the most overworked countries in the world. 

The International Labour Organization (ILO) reported, “Americans work 137 more hours per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours per year than British workers, and 499 more hours than French workers.”

On top of this, the U.S. government provides very few benefits to workers. For example, in terms of paid leave, the U.S. lags far behind the rest of the world. The U.S. is the only industrialized country that has no mandated annual leave or vacation days. No federal law provides paid sick leave, which means employers can choose to provide it or not, usually based on the pushback of local labor unions. Every industrialized nation in the world has mandatory and paid parental leave for new parents except for the U.S. The U.S. also has no restrictions on the maximum amount of hours an individual can work per week. 

There also comes the issue of unemployment. The U.S. provides very little assistance to laid-off workers, leaving unemployed individuals scrambling to look for new work immediately. 

On top of this, many retired individuals do not have enough savings to live on once they stop working, which means they must continue in some form of employment during retirement. Because of this, the U.S. has one of the highest labor force participation rates among seniors 65 years and older in the world. 

These statistics are fitting as the American perception of a strong work ethic is far more rigorous and rigid than in other countries. Americans have been taught to be obsessed with productivity and high performance, and the competitive tendencies ingrained in children from a young age teach them that they must earn more and work more than those around them. The American cultural value of money places earning above all else. 

Capitalist society demands that we work, work, work, and that we “earn our keep,” when in reality, workers are being exploited to further the interests of big corporations and those at the top in America’s socio-economic stratum. Ideas of “productivity” and “efficiency” are used to overwork employees and garner greater profits for corporations.

The cost of living has soared in the past 30 years, especially in big cities, while the federal minimum wage has increased only by infinitesimal increments. This means that many workers, usually those deemed “unskilled” or “uneducated,” and easily replaceable, can work for huge swathes of time each week and not even make a living wage. These workers often face unpredictable employment situations and must labor as much and as hard as possible in order to support themselves. But even with this, they struggle to make ends meet. Most service workers work menial jobs that bring them no fulfillment. This makes workplaces unwelcoming, and it makes these individuals dislike their jobs. 

Evidence also shows a connection between work-induced stress and high rates of stress-related illnesses worldwide. The Harvard Medical School summarized the results of a 2015 study: Individuals who worked 55 hours or more per week increased their risk of a heart attack by 13 percent. In addition to this, these people were also “33 percent more likely to suffer a stroke, compared with 35-40 hours per week.” 

The health concerns do not stop there. Individuals from low-income backgrounds do not have the resources to get necessary health checkups, diagnoses, medication, and so on, leaving them at a crossroads: they’re so busy working in high-stress environments that they don’t have the time or money to go to the doctor or the dentist, but when they finally have an appointment, they are unable to pay for necessary tests or medicine. 

Overworking is also linked to depression and anxiety, which leads to lower rates of overall happiness in the U.S. in comparison to other countries. Unpredictable work schedules, along with the huge loads of hours many people have to work to scrape by, make it so that work controls nearly every aspect of employees’ lives. Work keeps them from connecting with their families, sleeping enough, taking care of their physical and mental health, and actually enjoying themselves. And even during free time, these workers are so exhausted from their labor that they can barely enjoy any leisure. 

“What we call leisure time is typically spent recovering from work in order to return back to work,” Jamie McCallum, a professor of sociology at Middlebury College, said in an interview with Jacobin Magazine.