Americans are busy. Longer work weeks don’t begin to cover it; according to a 2006 Lexamark International study, 92% of respondents said they make or take work related communications outside of the office, including during vacations. Email and electronic communication keeps us at work at all hours, with 62% of at-work email users checking work email over the weekend, according to an AOL 2009 survey. Over 50% also check their emails on vacation. On top of that, only 38% of U.S. employees are taking all of their earned vacation days, with the average utilization being 14 out of 18 days.
Americans are also working harder in the office, partly due to the recession. In 2010, 39% of U.S. workers reported doing the work of two people according to a TNS Research study. According to a 2009 study by the Society for Human Resource Management, 70% of employees work beyond scheduled time and on weekends. Still, in July, 2012, the average work week in the U.S. was 34.5 hours, meaning that the average American is a part time employee. Employees that work part-time because they cannot find full-time work pulls this number down, but that only accounts for 8.2 million American workers out of 133 million non-farm jobs. However, even 35 hours per week is high when compared to other nations such as Germany, which works an average of 27 hours per week.
Part of the busyness enigma can be explained by the increased participation of women in the workforce. Even if dual earning households have one part time worker, that still decreases the time that could be spent at home doing housework, raising kids, etc. The result is less leisure time, since the task of raising children and managing a household doesn’t get any easier by spending more time at the office. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, the average yearly hours of a husband-wife working couple increased by about 684 hours or 4 months full time work. This trend has continued; only 28.7% of all families with children have a stay-at-home parent today, compared to 44% of married mothers with children under 15 years old in 1969. So in essence, the amount of hours worked per household has increased dramatically over the past 40 years.
All this working has a direct impact on cognitive function. According to a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, those who worked more than 55 hours per week scored substantially lower on a variety of cognitive tests than those working 40 hours or less per week. Short term memory, pattern identification and vocabulary all suffered. This data suggests that people have a built in limit to how much work they can competently perform in a given week. The study also found that those who worked over 55 hours per week had a higher occupational grade, higher education and higher income, giving credence to the idiom that “time is money.” It also seems like you can’t buy time, no matter how hard and long you work.
The American Prospect Overworked and Underemployed: http://prospect.org/article/overworked-and-underemployed
Key Organization Systems Time Management Statistics: http://www.keyorganization.com/time-management-statistics.php
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics The overestimated Workweek Revisited: http://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/2011/06/art3exc.htm
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Average Weekly Hours: http://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.t08.htm
The Washington Times A Nation Overworked: http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/life-line-healthful-habits-made-simple/2012/apr/22/nation-overworked-abandoning-happiness-and-health-/
Historical Changes in Stay-at-Home Mothers: http://www.census.gov/population/www/socdemo/ASA2010_Kreider_Elliott.pdf
The American Journal of Epidemiology Long Working Hours and Cognitive Function: http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/169/5/596.full.pdf+html