Fight Overwork to Rediscover Family, Community and Yourself


Struggling to find times to eat with your partner and kids? Is your last two-week vacation a distant memory? Feel like work is taking over your life?

You’re not alone.

Americans are stressing out and burning out from jobs that have them working nearly nine more weeks per year than their European counterparts.

Some Americans and Canadians have organized an annual “Take Back Your Time Day” to call attention to the problem. Consider these items from the “Take Back Your Time” handbook:

–Between 1979 and 2000, married couples aged 25-54 saw their total number of hours of paid work rise by 388, about 12 percent.

–Almost 40 percent of workers put in more than 50 hours per week.

–26 percent of American workers don’t take any vacation time.

–Since the 1980’s, work hours have risen by about half a percent annually.

Meanwhile, various devices have brought the workplace into the home. “The lines between work and home have become so blurred that the only way you can tell them apart is that one has a bed,” writes “Work to Live” author Jo Robinson.

Experts say “time poverty” is hurting our marriages, our physical and mental health, our civic life, our kids and the environment.

Maybe you feel the pressure: A lack of time for exercise or healthy eating. Being electronically leashed to your job when you crave a chance to relax. You or someone in your family putting in ever longer hours at work for fear of being “downsized.”

Then there are the more subtle signs. Ever notice how dining with friends requires combing your calendars for a few precious hours nearly a month away? Or maybe your dog looks under-exercised and lonely.

It wasn’t always so.

Around 1900, American working hours were declining. Economics books and articles predicted the continuing expansion of leisure time, writes leisure scholar Benjamin Hunnicutt.

Hunnicutt notes that in a 1920’s speech, biologist Julian Huxley said a two-day work week was inevitable because “the human being can consume so much and no more….”

In the 1930’s, Hunnicut says, economist John Maynard Keyes observed that “when we reach the point when the world produces all the goods that it needs in two days, as it inevitably will…we must turn our attention to the great problem of what to do with our leisure.”

Also in the 1930s, the Kellogg cereal factories began a 6-hour workday. Hunnicut says productivity rose, workers lavished timed on their families, and commercial recreation and nonprofit organizations flourished.

Yet, here we are, 70 years later, with complex economic, political and cultural realities leading to ever-shrinking windows of time for nurturing ourselves and our ties to each other.

What to do?

Activists suggest a number of steps you could take as an individual:

–Schedule once-a-week or once-a-month family times.

–Talk with coworkers and supervisors about ways to reduce after-hours phone calls and e-mails.

–Reclaim breaks and lunch time, even if you have to start small.

–Decrease the number of days you “stay late” at work.

–Read your company’s policies on vacation time.

–Organize a civic or religious gathering to discuss time issues.

–Claim a block of time for cooking slow food, cuddling your pets, making music or photographing something beautiful.

You can also join with an organization. Advocacy groups around the country are organizing teach-ins, conferences and discussion groups about overwork. An “It’s About Time” coalition” is bringing the issue to the attention of candidates for public office. Learn more at and

(c) 2004 Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC

The Author

Norma Schmidt, Coach, LLC, specializes in helping women who are both professionals and parents to create balance. She offers teleclasses, workshops and individual and group coaching. Norma also publishes “The Balance Point,” a free, bi-weekly e-zine. Visit:

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