A few weeks ago I received a call from Fox News asking me if I could be interviewed that evening about the importance of taking vacations. Several hours before the scheduled interview, I found out that it was not an interview after all but a live debate. My opponent was a corporate consultant who would be taking the position that business cannot afford to give employees more time off and that government has no business regulating vacations. I had not debated since high school and felt unprepared. Fortunately, I had an hour to search the internet for some facts prior to leaving for the studio.
I was surprised at what I found! The average Italian gets 42 paid vacation days each year. Germans get 35 days, Japanese only 25 days, and in last place, the average American only gets 13 paid vacation days each year. [http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0922052.html]
One would expect that those countries whose citizens work longer hours are more productive, but it seems that the opposite is actually the case. Germany exports $14,300 per citizen, Italy $6,860, Japan $4,260, and the US only exports $3,370 for each citizen.
The average German works 58 days less than his American counterpart, yet exports 4 times more. Germany has a positive trade balance of 109 billion dollars, while the US has a negative 380 billion dollar trade balance in 2009. [trade balance]
The economic problems that we face will not be solved by working harder or longer. In fact, I would argue that too much work can be blamed for many of the problems we face today. The profession that tops the list for hours worked in 2009 was NY Investment Bankers coming in at an average of over 5000 hours a year (that works out to a 14 hour day, 356 days a year). No wonder they ‘did not see the crash coming!’
Maybe if the New York investment bankers had spent a little less time at work, gotten a little more sleep, taken a few vacations with their families, slowed down to catch their breath and gotten a little distance from Wall Street, they might have recognized the rampant greed that dominated their working culture for what it was, a form of collective insanity.
Most of our problems can be traced back to bad decisions and lack of innovation or imagination. The key to succeeding in the future, as individuals and as a country, will be to make better decisions, not work longer hours. Innovation and creativity holds the keys to the future.
Long work hours and in sufficient vacations from work is a primary source of stress.
Stress is strongly correlated to employee burnout, performance problems, [stress] and 40% of job turnover according to the Bureau of National Affairs.Stress is estimated to be responsible for 60-90% of doctors visits each year. This places an undue burden on our medical costs, fueling the rising insurance rates that are crippling the US economy. Unmanaged stress has been shown to lead to decreased productivity, increased number of accidents, and most disturbing of all… cognitive impairment.
As stress levels increase our intellectual, emotional, and interpersonal functioning becomes more primitive and therefore, less effective. This results in: increased rigidity and inflexibility in the face of change; diminished problem-solving abilities; and superficial, simplistic, unoriginal style of thinking. According to authors A. Bernstein and S. Rozen “As stress levels increase, people revert to more primitive hard wired survival patterns. Once consequence of this is that when stressed, they are more likely to respond in an aggressive, territorial, paranoid manner.”
How do we measure the damage to a corporate culture whose overworked employees resort to aggression, territorialism and paranoia? How to we measure the economic costs associated with an overworked employee exercising poor judgment? Ask Enron, ask Wall Street, ask British Petroleum. If we continue to measure success only in the short term immediate flow of money, then each of these companies was operating successfully, right up to the moment they derailed. If we continue to measure success only in terms of the flow of money, BP will gradually be buried beneath more and greater tragedies.
Maybe France, Italy and Germany have got it right. Maybe there is more to life than more work. Just maybe, working less but smarter is the smart play. Getting some distance from your work on a regular basis is essential to seeing the big picture. And seeing the ‘big picture’ is essential to making good decisions. On a regular basis, hang your problems on your problem tree, and take a vacation.
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|Finding Yoga in Chaos & Order|
|The Tao of
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Mind & Body
Back from 10
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|The Peace Pilgrim|
|Follow Your Bliss|
|Leading by Example|
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|The Other Person|