Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Take Time Away From Work Every Now And Then

By Carol Frank

In the U.S., most of us are too stressed, have too much work, and are riddled with anxiety. Put another way, our frenetic culture leaves us no time to rest. Persistent uncertainty about the economy is paralyzing us. Today, fear seems like a logical response. One recent report said that, for the very first time, anxiety and depression medication prescriptions are greater than anything else and that includes prescriptions written for both elevated BP and to deal with cholesterol. It would appear that anxiety, stress, and depression have become our regular companions.

More than thirty years ago one psychiatric disorder study revealed that somewhere between two and four percent of adults in the U.S. suffered from one type of anxiety disorder or another. Fast forward thirty years and that number has increased more than 12 times, up to almost 50%. Based on the current population that 50% figure means that over 110 million people are now, or have been, affected at one point or another.

Why is this? What changes have happened in the last three decades to make these number rise so dramatically? Our lifestyle has certainly something to do with it. We don't value free time and leisure as much as other cultures do. Two-hour lunches, midday siestas, weeks of paid vacations may be cherished customs elsewhere, but not here. We work longer hours with fewer breaks than almost any other developed nation. Other leading nations such as Germany typically have 35 hour weeks and more vacation time and their productivity is still very high. International surveys indicate that, even though workers in these nations may have lower incomes, their living standards and quality of life is equal to, or better than, the United States.

Considering the price we pay in terms of our health and well-being, it may be time to question whether our traditional work ethic is still a worthy or even sustainable concept.

While we have established 40 hours as the working week, that measures only time at the workplace. Other responsibilities like children, housework, and commuting leave fewer hours in each day. Doing nothing once in a while, lying in a hammock, listening to music, reading a book, painting a picture, playing an instrument, going on a trip -- all that, it seems, has become an impossible dream. Is this the way we are really supposed to be living?

The good news is that there are some things that are beginning to change. Some organizations are now trying out various techniques to increase employee productivity by increasing their quality of life.

And its not just big companies who are experimenting. For example, the founder of one smaller software company, found that giving employees an entire month off to work on whatever they wanted was not only a great morale-booster but also resulted in an unprecedented burst of creativity, very much to the benefit of his business. While this approach might not be possible in every type of business, it does show that a less structured enviornment can bring about results that are beneficial not only to the employer but to the employee as well.

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