The Existence of this Post Might Answer My Question. Your Reading it Helps Too.

Last night, we watched 60 Minutes. The very last part called “Working” talked about how Americans are working longer hours and how more and more people basically live by their computers.

The digital revolution now enables people to work their jobs nearly every waking hour. Lesley Stahl reports on Americans who are working longer and harder.

The statistics and stories were a little disturbing, to be honest. Given the summary above, there was one part that really perked up my ears. It was ALSO reported that Americans work more hours and take less (if any) vacation time than the Europeans. However, Europeans are generally more productive during their workday. Basically, they get more done AND they have more time off. Why do you suppose that is? It really has me thinking.

30 Comments

  1. they dont post on blogs during the day!! :)jk

    i don’t know, but the part where they said that people where being more productive at night doing work at home, than at work during the day becuase of all the pointless meetings, is absolutely true for me.

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  2. (Andrea, see title.)

    I think that people might be less productive BECAUSE they’re made to work longer hours.

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  3. No oops. I was just wholeheartedly admitting to the fact that I do actually waste time here during the day. I really do.

    But I always try and make myself feel better by eating lunch at my computer while working.

    But I do still waste time. Yes, I am guilty. But I assure you, I work hard when I’m busy. I really do.

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  4. I think it has , in part, to do with satisfaction.

    Europeans , for the most part, come from a mindset where someone is perfectly content being a cafe worker or a tailor. Should anything happen to them, there are tons of social programs that will see to their healthcare and well being. So you go to work, you do what’s needed, and then you go home and spend time with family and friends.

    Americans, on the other hand, go to work where the company is continually tryng to get more work for less money. People will take / stay at a job they hate for healthcare benefits , and the list could go on (my mind is fuzzy right now , i just had 2 fillings replaced). My general point though, is this: the european workplace is comforting and supportive, the american workplace is caustic and threatening with instability.

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  5. I am convinced there is more to it than “Europe is great and does it the right way” and “America sucks and does it wrong.”

    I’m convinced. There has to be. That argument seems entirely too simple and easy.

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  6. we just got back from visiting a friend who married a German and now lives in Germany and this subject actually comes up all the time when we’re there. Marc couldn’t believe that I can survive with my benefits package: vacation, holidays, healthcare, etc. He gets 3 weeks standard vacation, and he said the workers are pissed that they don’t get 4. This past visit, I actually spoke with some British folk who my fiancee met while studying abroad years ago and they pretty much agreed that America sucks as far as social welfare and employment policies, but Ian did point out that he didn’t think the American economy could survive if it adopted the European mindset. I think we’re stuck in this vicious cycle/self-fulfilling prophecy type thing. We work for companies who are driving this economy, and as the economy grows, it forces the companies to keep those really employee-unfriendly policies just to survive.

    But I do have to say that I believe that the European “way” keeps the focus on the employees and need for family, and that keeps their employees happy and productive. I mean, they get paternity leave standard there. How many companies in the US do you know of that acutally pay for the WOMAN to get to know her newborn child, let alone the father?? or other mother. had to throw that in there.

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  7. Interesting. Really. So it is a cultural thing, you think?

    So is that why so many places are anti-union? It keeps people from working longer hours and for more (OT) pay?

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  8. I wonder what percentage of Euro kids are latchkey/raised by TV.

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  9. I’m also curious to know how much of Europe turns to anti-depressants and sleep aides.

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  10. The unions are a scam. At least the american implementations are – they have a long history of corruption and ill deeds.

    The us is wrong. Culturally, we look at workers as a number and a liablitiy, vs a lot of the rest of the world where people are treated like an asset and are groomed for a long career. The japanese approach mega-companies like families. Blue collar EU workers will spend their entire life at a single job , valued.

    In the US though, companies put performance and profits first. Lay off 10k workers? Eh, sucks for them – they should have gone for management positions. Elminate this entire hospital? Why not. Its a cancer on our budget. Meanwhile countries in the EU will go head-over-heels trying to keep a company in business and people employed.

    Its a cultural approach to values. As americans, we are taught to shit on the poor. Fuck them, they’re worthless. They’re not good enough. They’re a burden on our economy.

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  11. I can finally post during the day! Woo! Yes, I’m using a prized vacation week to sit around and relax.

    I could write a long message defending the american style of capitalism (which I’ll do with until my final breath), but I’ll be short.

    First, I think my benefit package is great. Second, you’re more than welcome to try and be hired by my firm. Try that in Europe… while this system may be ‘brutal,’ at least it allows you to go after what you want with relative ease.

    As a young person, especially the poorer population segments, try to get hired in France. It’s difficult. That’s why they rioted several months back.

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  12. I am summing this up for my own good.

    Europe = Works shorter hours gets more done.

    U.S. = Works long hours and apparently screws off more often during those long hours which could probably mean we could probably work shorter hours, get it all done in time, and then leave like most Europeans do.

    Europe = Less jobs for the youth because the older people don’t leave.

    America = more jobs for youth because those who are older don’t want to work 70+ hour weeks.

    Europe = Less obesity probably because people have more hobbies and are more active because they’re not working all the time?

    Americans = Work constant. Sit around. Complain. Stuff ourselves full of sleeping pills to get to sleep in time to work another long day. (Low blow, sorry.)

    But HEY! WE’RE RICH!

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  13. I’ve never liked the “But hey! We’re rich!” sarcastic attack. It removes individual responsibility. It’s not that being rich makes it better – it’s the flexibility the extra wealth provides.

    I’m barely out of school five years… I had a masters degree paid for, found four jobs (if you count intra-co. switches), live by myself in bk, get hdtv, have a private tutor for a language, and saved some money if this housing market ever cools. I doubt I’d be anywhere near that in most European countries.

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  14. Yet, and you can’t argue with me here, you HATE your job and you want to find another one as soon as you can!

    So yeah, you got all that, but you hate going there every day?

    Makes no sense, man.

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  15. No – I DID want to find another job… until the annual review. Now I’m willing to stick it out. Oh, and with the surprise-pregnancy girl potentially quiting, my situation will dramatically improve. The past few weeks at work have been much better.

    But, in the meantime, I am doing things to help me reach the next stage of life. But… uh… does anyone have any shortcuts on how to learn chinese?

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  16. I’m not saying that either system is better. I think they both suck. I think the american approach sucks particularly more.

    The ‘american dream’ is a lotto mentality – sure you can do it, sure a lot of people can do it – but for every 1 person that does, 100 fail miserably. we just don’t look at that becase “hey, if X can do it , anyone can”.

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  17. Only 1% of the population has reach the american dream ideal? Well, shit, I guess I haven’t made it yet then. Time to go be miserable because someone out there has more money than me.

    You’re right, the system sucks, rich people suck, companies suck, the government sucks… let’s see… who else? Oh yeah, my parents suck (where’s my upper east side apartment dammit!? Or a ferarri, either one), TMI sucks (nuke me will, you?!?), my boss sucks, my neighbors suck. In fact, everyone sucks but me! It’s all your fault! Now give me stuff so I don’t have to take responsibility for seeking my own happiness!

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  18. Now, now, let’s not get all worked up.

    Clearly, something should change. I’m just not sure what and how.

    If there really is no afterlife as many people believe, and this is all we get, it’s not that great that we spend 70+ hours working a week. What a waste, imo. this shit keeps me up at night.

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  19. Freud had a stated goal with practical psychoanalysis that is possibly (like so many other psychoanalytic concepts) transposable to market capitalism. He said that analysis serves to replace neurotic anxiety with everyday discontent.

    I believe the ‘european’ model discussed here might serve the same goal when compared to the ‘american’ model. One is hyper-excited with manic-depressive tendencies and the other is consistently bland with no great highs or lows.

    I wonder what the practical questions are around this subject? Obviously it’s not a question of how to make one more like the other. Addressing the subject only leads to battles chock full of hypothetical soldiers doing the bidding of armchair generals. So what are the questions? Does one lead to a more immediately fulfilling life? Depends on the subject in question and, of course, on their cultural context. I suppose we have to ask questions about our own positions and our own goals.

    I feel entirely happy with my assumption that I’m able to life a life including ample leisure, find true joy in my work, and toe a line of mediocre ‘everyday discontent.’

    Then again, I work in an industry I happen to like most of the time and think of my work as a passionate hobby that has the benefit of a paycheck.

    Hey, if I can make it to everyday discontent, anyone can!

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  20. i think its wrong to get the idea of healthy workplace mixed up with money. I don’t think this issue is at all about money. Economically, there is a point at which money is less valuable than time to a worker.

    My household has two very different work environments in it. My fiancee LOVES her job. She loves where she works. She actually said that she wouldn’t care if they ever raised her salary because she loves working there so much. It is a wonderful environment. There is a sense of teamwork and compassion from both her co-workers and her boss. Her well-being is one of their highest priorities.

    On the other hand, my company is owned by a money-man, for lack of a better description. He could honestly care less who the people are who work for him, as long as he’s making money. His only objective is to get us to put out more product for the same income, to make his profit margin larger. At the annual manager’s meeting with him three weeks ago, I was nauseated to hear him say that its important to remember that everyone is replaceable. Basically, if you don’t like it, we don’t need you. No matter how long you’ve worked there or how hard you’ve worked. Every dumb-ass at that table was nodding their head along in approval. To me, that is a terrible way to look at your employees. These people that I work with work their ASSES off for their money. And some of them, at this point, would rather see their kids on the weekend than make an extra dollar per sample that they analyze. But they don’t really have a choice about it. Because all the big bosses care about is turning out samples and making Bob some more money, so that their bonus is bigger. If there was some loyalty and respect from the upper management shown to those down “in the trenches”, I think that maybe we too would not care so much if we were getting bonuses or raises. Sarah is proof.

    I think the issue between Europe and the US is priorities. I think there are very different priorities at work. I don’t think the European way would work here. One of the main reasons is that most Americans love this system. The pace of life in Europe is very different, and while I love being there, agree with alot of the ways they do things, and we are always talking about moving there one day, I think it would be an adjustment for me to fit into their frame of mind and life.

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  21. aimee: “The pace of life in Europe is very different, and while I love being there, agree with alot of the ways they do things, and we are always talking about moving there one day, I think it would be an adjustment for me to fit into their frame of mind and life.”

    I couldn’t even adjust to the West coast. I can relate absolutely. I bet I wouldn’t make it over there, either.

    Tell me, would you give up a job that paid 10 grand more for a job doing something you really, really love? Would you give up a job that pays 20 grand more to do something you love? I really wonder how many people would do this. (The universal You is used above. Not you as in aimee you. Although, I love what you have to say, so aimee, feel free.)

    We discussed this here on Friday. We were saying that it’s kinda of sad that a lot of the New York City muscians have to keep day jobs in order to do what they do. I find that a little depressing. Some of them are superb and are in huge productions around the city, yet they can’t pay their bills by doing just that. Kinda a little sad.

    Also, I hear ya about the boss comment. A lot of the American workforce is fueled by fear. And that fear is given to employees with that replaceable concept. It’s sad.

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  22. if i could continue to live on that reduced salary, yes. absolutely. i’m not particularly hung up on money. but that is where it gets complicated these days. i don’t live an extravagant life, but i have a beautiful life and i couldn’t just decide to go muck around the forest like i would like to unless it met the financial demands of my present life. sad, but true. but its a conscious decision i make now that i’m thinking as half of a whole, not just an unattached free spirit. But believe me, i don’t give up hope that one day i’ll find a job doing something that inspires me for just enough to live on. in the mean time, the job i do have feeds my doggies and pays for the perks.

    oh, and i’ve only been to the West Coast one time, but I was there long enough to know i could never live there. its weird out there…

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  23. When we (me and my fiancé) started our company we made huge financial sacrifices to make us happier. We sacrificed a lot in our lives as well because we spent a long time working from home and not having a definitive line between home and work. Many times we’d both be at our computers from morning until bedtime. When we got our office, our lives have completely switched into 2 distinct modes again. It is taking some getting used to, but we’re very happy with the change. I think the biggest part of our happiness is that we feel like we have some control over how we work, how much we work, and the quality we produce is higher than ever before because of that. Our life is so much more fulfilling now. We could probably still make more working for other people, but it wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

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  24. One of the things that people always bring up when I’ve been involved in this conversation is that even though you get a more leisurely life in some European countries, they take a lot more out of your pay to support the social programs and health care that make things so cushy. And I always viewed that as OK – I give up X and you give me Y and Y gives me piece of mind.

    I can’t say the American way is worse than the European system – you just have to pick your trade-off. However, now that I am in a management position and have been cornered by my bosses to think about laying off one of my employees because she is not a workaholic like everyone else (and this is non-profit here!) – even though she’s worked loyally for nine years. When I told my boss that I didn’t entirely agree with her and didn’t think I could swing the axe – she used somekind of horrible Human Resources speak and said if I wasn’t ready for that kind of “growth” then she would handle it. Growth? I am beginning to see the ugly, ugly side of American business as usual. There is definitely a soulessness to the way workers are treated and used by “the man.” More $ = less soul. (Sorry, I had to vent.)

    Michele, the next time you see me I’ll look like my soul has been sucked out my a-hole.

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  25. I think one big difference is motivation. The European mindset seems to be much more in the moment and the evryday while our American goals focus more on the future & a career path (even the so satisfied in his young life Mr.bkgunner seems very focussed on where the now is getting him and seems to be looking past the immediate.) These aren’t bad things it’s just that I personally am tired of waiting for things to get better. As an American from the Midwest with a work ethic of martyrdom drilled into my every being, I’ve been trained to believe in ‘paying my dues’. And frankly, as Lesley Stahl so eloquently put it last night to those 3 overly eager employees from Best Buy, “YOU’VE BEEN BRAINWASHED.” I, for one, am tired of being taken advantage of by people who don’t appreciate what I sacrifice to do the job they expect me to get done in the breakneck speed-schedule given. I’ve had enough. I’m out of here. Who’s with me?!

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  26. europeans hate their lives too, they just lie about it.

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  27. Nora, you crack me up. I can’t wait to hear more in Rhode Island. :] Also, it’s true, American businesses can be really cut throat sometimes. it works for the people who are “go getters” and workaholics, but the others fall by the wayside.

    ginar, I couldn’t have said it better myself. The Best Buy bit on 60 Minutes blew my mind. What the hell was that? And they feller who lived in an entirely wireless house with a shower equipped with a phone and Internet? What the hell is that all about? The water would actually GO OFF when the phone rang! BUT!!! He had the most amazing view of San Francisco anyone has ever seen plus he lives in the most amazing house I’ve ever seen. Based on all that, it’s no wonder people keep working harder and harder and for longer and longer hours. When someone like him says he works 24/7 and has a house that large in a major city, it’s no wonder. Thing is, how many of us can actually get to that point? And how much of that isn’t based entirely on right place, right time?

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  28. BKGUNNER

    Short cut to learning chinese is moving to China.

    If you lived in Europe you wouldn’t need a private language tutor. You would be taught multi languages in school. Just another really useful skill that is taught in their education system.

    In fact I think their productivity is probably based in a superior education system.

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  29. Good call Meghan, but it’s not just Europe. In fact, Toyota has recently passed up really sweet deals (free land, tax incentives, etc.) to build auto plants in the US, and chose Canada instead citing a better educated workforce and a national health plan as their reasons.

    He said Nissan and Honda have encountered difficulties getting new plants up to full production in recent years in Mississippi and Alabama due to an untrained – and often illiterate – workforce. In Alabama, trainers had to use “pictorials” to teach some illiterate workers how to use high-tech plant equipment.

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