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Why Is the American Workplace So Dismissive of Work-Life Balance?

As Americans, we take pride in hailing from a nation that's led the world in so many key areas for literally hundreds of years. Our revolution sparked others around the world, and our unique ideology helped change the way the entire globe viewed the nature of citizenship and maybe even life itself. There's no doubt, there's something very special about the United States, but, there is one key area where we've fallen way behind in a big way – work/life balance.

As Americans, we take pride in hailing from a nation that’s led the world in so many key areas for literally hundreds of years. Our revolution sparked others around the world, and our unique ideology helped change the way the entire globe viewed the nature of citizenship and maybe even life itself. There’s no doubt, there’s something very special about the United States, but, there is one key area where we’ve fallen way behind in a big way – work/life balance.

late hours

(Photo Credit: DeveionPhotography/Flickr)

Recent data suggest that the US is the most overworked developed nation in the world. We work more hours than others, we take fewer vacations, and it’s having an impact on us personally and professionally.

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One reason for this is that it used to be a lot easier to separate work time and personal time. These days, technology has helped us blur the lines in our lives, but that’s also meant that we’ve altered the balance as we’ve become available to our employers, clients, etc., almost round the clock.

Other pressures have also contributed to the decline of personal time and the rise of stress. Rising above expectations has, in fact, become the expectation. Long hours, late nights, lack of vacations – these things have become so normalized that few of us even question them anymore. We think of America as such a wonderful place to live and work, but is that really the case?

Last month, the social progress index for 2015 was released, and the US came in 16th. The index measures things like basic human needs, (water and sanitation, shelter, personal safety, etc.), foundations of well-being, (education, health and wellness…), and opportunity.

Michael Porter, the Harvard business school professor who worked on putting together the social progress index explains that our recent emphasis on economic growth is misguided, because these other factors are what really help us innovate and progress over the long term. He said:

We’re not No.1 in a lot of stuff that traditionally we have been. What we’re learning is that the fact that we’re not No.1 on this stuff also means that we’re facing long-term economic stresses. We’re starting to understand that we can’t put economic development and social progress in two separate buckets.

Of course, other factors beyond a lack of emphasis on work-life balance contribute to our low ranking, but perhaps achieving more equilibrium between our working lives and our personal lives is a good place to start. Money won’t fix all of our problems. We need time, energy, and contentment to tackle some of our nation’s most pressing issues – it’s high time we make achieving balance in our lives a greater priority.

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How is lack of work-life balance holding you back? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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