Stress

U.S. Workers Face Growing Pressure to Relax


Whoa! Hold on there, young banker. Your boss wants you to kick back and stop working so hard. That’s the message from Bank of America (BAC), which just issued a memo advising its analysts and associates to “take a minimum of four weekend days off per month.” (Senior executives presumably know what’s good for them and are welcome to work around the clock.)

This growing pressure to relax isn’t limited to junior bankers trying to get ahead in a shrinking industry. In fact, a major source of stress on U.S. workers right now is the onslaught of data about the costs of being so stressed and sleep-deprived. You’re more likely to crash your car, drink too much, blow up in a meeting, divorce your spouse, and fall prey to everything from a cold to a heart attack. Just being around a stressed person, so-called secondhand stress, can leave you feeling more stressed. For most Americans the main source of that stress isn’t their finances or love life or lousy neighbors. It’s their job. More specifically, it’s the workload from their job. (The kind of workload that prompts a Bank of America associate to, say, work over the weekend.)

The challenge is finding a fix that fits into a busy schedule. While TV pundits love to cast the U.S. as a nation of takers, the reality is that Americans are a pretty hardworking bunch. They used only 10 of their 14 vacation days in 2013, according to Expedia (EXPE). French workers, in contrast, received and used all 30 of their days. (To be sure, Americans beat the French when it comes to actually working, with unemployment standing at 6.7 percent and 10.9 percent, respectively.) Americans eat at their desks, work longer days, and retire later than their counterparts in most other parts of the world, which might also explain why they’re acknowledged masters in the realm of fast food.

Thus comes the slew of U.S.-style solutions, from Oprah Winfrey’s online Meditation Master Trilogy to Arianna Huffington’s Third Metric tour aimed at tackling “sleep deprivation, burnout, and driving ourselves into the ground.” Harvard Business Review has a guide that promises to “harness stress so that it spurs your productivity.” There are meditation goggles, Ambien, sleep coaches, and power naps. And, of course, there are the missives that remind eager workers to go home on weekends.

That may prove to be a hard sell if you belong to a generation that’s experienced 70 consecutive months of double-digit unemployment, often with daunting college debts to pay off. If so, take comfort in knowing elders like State Senator Glenn Grothman (R-Wis.) are on your side. He’s fighting to undo a “goofy” state law that requires employers to give workers a day off, saying “all sorts of people want to work seven days a week.” You betcha. If the boss insists you take more weekends off without reducing the workload that got you there in the first place, that’s OK. The minute you hit midnight on Sunday, the workweek can start again.

Brady_190
Brady is a senior editor for Bloomberg Businessweek in New York.

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Companies Mentioned

  • BAC
    (Bank of America Corp)
    • $17.06 USD
    • 0.11
    • 0.64%
  • EXPE
    (Expedia Inc)
    • $82.97 USD
    • -2.19
    • -2.64%
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