to Live has Been Overtaken by Living to Work
Barbara Sumner Burstyn
the perspective of North America, New Zealand sometimes looks quaint and naive.
The recent announcement that the Government is setting up a steering group to
co-ordinate policies to promote a work-life balance is a great example.
government not only acknowledging that its people work too hard but doing
something about it? In this day and age? Unbelievable.
only when you compare it to the United States, where the overwork ethic has
become so bad that this year October 24 has been dubbed "Take Back Your
the day the average American will have worked the equivalent of a full European
work year. Take Back Your Time Day is a nationwide initiative to challenge the
epidemic of overwork, over-scheduling and time famine that the promoters
believe threatens health, families, relationships, communities and the environment.
fact Americans work more now than they did in the 1950s (remember how all those
mod-cons were going to free up your leisure time?), more than medieval peasants
did, and more than the citizens of any other industrial country.
caught in the vice-grip of spiraling work hours, spend nearly nine full weeks
more a year on the job than their counterparts in Western Europe. Even the
standard two-week holiday is almost a memory.
to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, it has now become 8.1 days after the first
year, jumping to 10.2 days of holiday after three years. While Australians get
four weeks a year and the Chinese three, 13 per cent of US companies provide no
paid leave at all.
what does all this time deprivation do to a person? For one, it keeps you so
busy you can't think, not in any depth, not with any acuity and not about a lot
more than what to mindlessly consume next (after all, mass production requires
and other social functions decline in a work-obsessed society. And as time for
family and friends is extinguished, so, too, are foundational relationships.
you can't sleep. The National Sleep Foundation says the reallocation of time
and prioritization of work has a direct effect on sleep. Those who work more
sleep less, it says. The result is a nation of fractured, sleep-deprived
it's the children who suffer the most. For the kids of "over-workers"
it means extra hours in every day being "on", their creativity
besieged by their time pressure, their lives spent fitting into their parents'
if parents aren't taking holidays, neither are the children, at least not the
kind of family-centered holidays on which great childhoods are built.
course the Government's plan to set up the work-life balance steering group to
address these issues before they become endemic, before we become mired in the
work-to-live society, has met the usual chorus of disapproval.
National Party employment spokeswoman, Katherine Rich, called it an example of
social engineering. She is worried it could end up hurting business.
the concept of work-life issues sounds very Orwellian, this idea that the
Government can somehow extend its tentacles into areas that it hasn't
before," she said.
she's right. It may end up hurting business. But the impact of the alternative
is far more wide-reaching and damaging to the cohesion of our society.
it is social engineering. But the real naivety is to think that allowing
business values and goals to run the country is not social engineering. Clearly
alternative is the American system, a society engineered and run by corporate
kleptocrats, aided and abetted by the very governments they have bought.
that world, workers are minions, too exhausted to think, let alone vote or care
much about the results. A populace too tired and stressed to protest.
those of us living on the cusp of America, and crossing its borders regularly,
it is clear it is a nation in distress. People don't travel and they hardly
take time out, except to shop.
they're unemployed, and there you have the motivation behind the overwork
of losing: your job, your status, your consuming ability. The ironic fear of
missing out causing you to miss out on a grand scale, your affluenza finally
that fear doesn't come naturally. It is the most effective tool a corporate-run
society can have and it is being sculptured, molded carefully to fit so
seamlessly around US society that Americans are hardly aware they are wearing
the wide view, our Government's plan doesn't look idealistic, far-fetched or
draconian. Instead, it is clear-headed and intelligent, the far-sighted action
of a Government with a vision for a society that puts people first.
George W. Bush calls the American way their "blessed lifestyle". But
then he gets three months' holiday a year.
this year, the President visited the Auschwitz and Birkenau Nazi death camps in
seems unlikely that he would have stopped long enough to read the inscription
over the concentration-camp gates: Arbeit Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free).
It was a lie then and it's a lie now.
Burstyn is a freelance writer who commutes between Montreal, Quebec and
The Hawkes Bay in New Zealand. She writes a weekly column for the New Zealand
Herald (www.nzherald.co.nz), and has
contributed to a wide range of media. She can be reached at: email@example.com. Visit her
website to read more of her work: http://www.sumnerburstyn.com/.