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


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


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


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


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) Norma Schmidt, LLC