Forget Russian figure skater Julia Lipnitskaia spinning in a blur with her leg impossibly held straight up against her ear. The sight of skier Bode Miller collapsing with emotion at the end of a race dedicated to his brother while NBC cameras lingered uncomfortably on the long shot. Or even jubilant Noelle Pikus-Pace climbing into the stands to race into her family’s arms after her silver medal finish in the Skeleton.
The image that stands out most in my mind during the broadcast of the 2014 Winter Olympics? The Cadillac commercial with a boxy, middle-aged white guy in a fancy house striding purposefully from his luxurious swimming pool to his $75,000 luxury Cadillac ELR parked out front while extolling the virtues of hard work, American style.
“Why do we work so hard? For stuff?” actor Neal McDonough asks in the commercial that has been playing without cease. “Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. “Off,” he says again, to reinforce the point.
“Why aren’t you like that? Why aren’t WE like that?”
The first time the commercial aired during the Opening Ceremonies in Sochi, the slight pause after those two questions made me hopeful. I sat up to listen closely.
Was he about to say – we should be more like that? Because Americans work among the most hours of any advanced country in the world, save South Korea and Japan, where they’ve had to invent a word for dying at your desk. (Karoshi. Death from Overwork.) We also work among the most extreme hours, at 50 or more per week. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average American works about one month more a year than in 1976.
Was he going to say that we Americans are caught up in what economist Juliet Schor calls a vicious cycle of “work-and-spend” – caught on a time-sucking treadmill of more spending, more stuff, more debt, stagnant wages, higher costs and more work to pay for it all?
Would he talk about how we Americans, alone among the advanced economies, whose athletes are competing between the incessant commercials with such athleticism and grace, have no national vacation policy. (So sacrosanct is time off in some countries that the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled in 2012 that workers who get sick on vacation are entitled to take more time off “to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure.”)
American leisure? Don’t let the averages fool you, he could say. While it looks like leisure time has gone up, time diaries show that leisure and sleep time have gone up steeply since 1985 for those with less than a high school degree. Why? They’re becoming unemployed or underemployed. And leisure and sleep time for the college educated, the ones working those crazy extreme hours, has fallen steeply.
Americans don’t have two “nurture days” per child until age 8, as Denmark does. No year-long paid parental leaves for mothers and fathers, as in Iceland. Nor a national three-month sabbatical policy, which Belgium has.
Continue reading Reasons Why You Should Not Work Too Hard