I hope you’ve all had a pleasant three-day weekend. Today’s “drops” are coming a little later than I would have liked, but that’s (in part) in keeping with the theme of the post — work-life balance. Admittedly, I don’t particularly like the term “work-life balance” because it implies that life and work are separate, when in fact, they most certainly are not. Nonetheless, it’s the word we use to talk about this “thing” that means “taking a break” or “vacation,” so it’s the one I’m using to bring you a themed Drops from the Fire Hose.
This past weekend, while I was heeding the advice of today’s “drops,” I came across an article in the New York Times about the work-life balance. It made me remember reading some good articles this summer from The Atlantic, so I’ve included both of the below. Enjoy!
When the Work-Life Scales Are Unequal — The New York Times
On this Labor Day weekend, when we celebrate the American worker, or at least the last unofficial days of summer, Ms. Azevedo is giving voice to what many people feel in their bones: the pursuit of “work-life balance,” which sounds so wholesome and reasonable, can be a zero-sum game in the office.
In theory, flextime seems like an everyone-wins proposition. But one person’s work-life balance can be another’s work-life overload. Someone, after all, has to make that meeting or hit that deadline.
Jason Fried is a founder and CEO of 37signals, a software company based in Chicago. Fried also treats 37signals as something of a laboratory for innovative workplace practices–such as a recent experiment in shortening the summer workweek to just four days. We caught up with Fried to learn how employees are like fossil fuels, how a business can be like a cancer, and how one of the entrepreneurs he admires most is his cleaning lady.
So, America is exceptional. But not wiser, perhaps. The science of productivity is pretty clear that anything from a coffee break to a two-week vacation can make us better workers by replenishing our energy and attention and allowing our brains to make new connections that are obscured in the daily grind. Even at companies that offer vacation time (the vast majority of them), Americans often don’t take advantage. We like working, or at least we’re so afraid of not working that we deny ourselves breaks that might, paradoxically, make us more productive in the long term. Are we crazy?
American workers love to work. Or perhaps they’re afraid not to.
A 2010 survey indicated that the average American accrues 18 vacation days and uses only 16. The average French worker takes more than twice the vacation time. To some, this statistic encapsulates the difference between American and European workers. We’re productive. They’re lazy. In fact, it might say the opposite. Europeans understand that breaks improve workplace efficiency. We mistakenly believe that more hours will always increase output, while ignoring the clear evidence: The secret to being an effective worker is not working too hard.