Work-Life Balance

October 17, 2008

True freedom is waking up and deciding what you want to do with your day.  – The Color Purple.

Europeans, on average, live longer than Americans even though they smoke more, drink more and eat all the foods we can’t like real butter, rich and creamy sauces and white flour in their pasta, pastries and breads.   How do they do it?  They know a few things about balance.  

Europeans value time off so much that many countries have a mandatory five week paid vacation allotment for all workers.  In the US we are lucky if we get 2 weeks a year and most don’t even take it when it is offered.   Unlike the rest of the developed world, we call people that work less than 50 hours a week slackers – a negative connotation to be sure.  We feel guilty taking vacations and we carry our Blackberries and cell phones as if the entire free world rests upon our shoulders.  I have a secret…it does not. 

We pay a lot of lip service to family values, but what do we know about valuing families?  Yesterday I was fortunate to be a chaperon on my son’s fourth grade field trip.   At each station, as the kids were learning about pioneer life in our area, at least one parent was busy on their electronic appendage.  I don’t fault these parents, they are tied to their jobs by the electronic revolution.  Bosses provide these tools and expect them to be available and to keep their jobs, they are available…but meanwhile their kids are missing out; missing out on a parent that is fully there ‘in the moment’ just for them. 

Europeans know that families are important and family life is important (which is why they typically have shorter work weeks and longer maternity and paternity leaves).  They know that time off and relaxation are vital to healthy, happy workers.  They know that a long healthy life must have balance.   They know that workers shouldn’t have to choose between making a living and being with their families.   They support and pay higher taxes to ensure that no one has to work two weeks after having a baby, to provide paid vacation, paid maternity leaves, and basic health care for one and all. 

In other words, Europe works to live.  America lives to work.

Balance isn’t easy to achieve in this tumultuous time.  We are told that to keep our jobs we have to work more, be in the office more, stop working at home and generally sell our souls to the company just so we can keep our livelihood building other people’s riches.

October 24th is Take Back Your Time Day.   Visit www.timeday.org to find out what you can do to promote public policy that helps American workers find a reasonable work/life balance.