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Working long hours often keeps us from the things we value

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Working long hours often keeps us from the things we value

Bay Area: How do people work so much? Seriously. Maybe I'm a big baby, because I've had a real job for only 2 1/2 years and in school I did summer camp and restaurant jobs, but I am baffled by people who work 60 to 80 hours per week.

I work hard and I'm good at my job, even though I hate it, because it's getting me somewhere I want to go. But even 50 hours per week means I don't work out or cook or see my boyfriend. I consider these elements of a life worth living, and I guess I'm just wondering how people make it all fit (with KIDS!?).

I feel like a wimp because I'm so overwhelmed working hours that seem like they should be reasonable. Is it an age thing? My friends seem similarly overwhelmed, we're 24-25ish.

Carolyn: I don't think it's about age. Maybe you aren't in the 50-hour habit yet, but you can be in the habit and still object.

I, for one, find it appalling/discouraging/soul-sucking the amount of time people spend at work these days. It's bad for health, bad for relationships, bad for kids, bad for pets, bad for neighborhoods, bad for homes and gardens and arts and other expressions of our less linear selves — essentially bad for all the things we "work" for. Meanwhile we're told that Americans are fat and sedentary, drive angry, let TV raise our kids, shoot each other at astonishing rates, don't read enough, and feel alienated? No kidding.

It's worse now that people with jobs — the lucky ones — have absorbed the workloads of people who have lost their jobs.

I don't mean to sound so pessimistic and angry. People can and do resist this cultural acceleration of the assembly line.

But it's hard to leave at 5 when everyone's slogging till 7. Flexible careers and companies offer relief, but those are in high demand. Two-income households can go down to one income, but, in addition to the financial-security risk, that often means moving — out of the great school district, into a long commute, or even just away from what feels like home. Without independent wealth, opting out can dent the very quality of life we're trying to restore.

And many don't want to opt out of jobs — just the mad hours. Entirely different things.

I don't know what the answer is, except for each person to fight for quality-of-life priorities, and hope that, culturally, we come to our senses.

Anonymous: To Bay Area: I work a lot too — but it doesn't stink. I love what I do. I think that helps a lot. I'm also friends with many of my co-workers, so when the inevitable late nights occur, we order in dinner and usually end up punchy. My employer also helps: We have a gym in the building, they host monthly happy hours and sponsor volunteer opportunities.

In other words, there are some ways to force a little balance.

Carolyn: That does help — but it still makes colleagues your de facto family.

There have always been, and always will be, people who choose long hours. No objection there. It just seems compulsory now, sucking in people who would otherwise be caregiving, library-using, bulb-planting, community-building. That's a society's loss.

Working long hours often keeps us from the things we value 11/27/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, November 25, 2009 7:35pm]

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