According to the International Labor Organization, Americans work more hours on the job than any other industrialized nation. Furthermore, America is the only industrialized nation without federally mandated laws requiring sick leave or paid vacation. We are dead last among our peers around the world when it comes to the amount of paid time off and paid holidays we offer workers.

Most U.S. companies do provide some form of paid leave to their employees. Unfortunately, more than a third of American workers do not take all the time they are allowed. Some fear that taking too much sick time or an extended vacation may leave them vulnerable to a layoff.

Policy is not the only driver of American work habits. Some employees work longer and harder because teams are leaner. Many employees are doing the work of three people. Still, there can be no skimping on quality. Expectations for output and results remain high.

If we dare to look weary or complain, we are quickly reminded how lucky we are to have jobs. The overarching message in the workplace is that you can easily be replaced with someone who will be grateful for your position.

Technology is another factor that impacts the way we work. Laptops, notepad computers and smartphones keep us continually connected. We are always plugged in and always working. Studies have shown that mobile tools improve the flow of information, enhance collaboration, speed up decision-making and increase productivity. We can flex hours and are free to work anytime, anywhere.

However, this can become a slippery slope. Information is good. The ability to multitask is generally considered a valuable skill. However, there is a tipping point at which too much of a good thing becomes detrimental.

Information overload can impair our ability to focus on what matters most. We begin multitasking to the extent that quality and productivity suffers. Think about how many times you stop working on something important to respond to a much less important email. It takes time to get back into the groove of the more important task.

With constant availability comes an expectation that we must remain “on call” all the time. We seem to be working with an increased sense of urgency. If a message comes in from the boss, we often feel as if we must answer right away. We want to show commitment and dedication. Many employees claim they have to work from home in the evenings just to stay on top of all the emails they receive.

Some of us become obsessed with this constant connection. We continually scan for incoming messages because it makes us feel important and valuable. Initially, we may enjoy feeling needed at work but it often becomes burdensome stressful.

Rather than attending to personal or family needs, we are continually drawn back to our jobs. It becomes increasingly difficult to balance work and home. When lives are out of balance, people suffer and so do organizations.

Study after study has shown that job fatigue has a negative impact on the bottom line. We know that chronic overtime and a lack of rest and recovery correlates to lower productivity, impaired decision-making and increased accidents. These are costly issues for employers.

Moreover, overworked employees are more prone to negative interpersonal issues with team members as well as with external customers. We lose patience more easily when we are tired. Constant working also impacts innovation. The creative spirit suffocates when work environments become soul-sucking vacuums.

On the personal side, “always working” takes a toll on our health and wellbeing.

We have options. We could move to France where workers get 38 days of paid vacation per year. Or, we can remain right here and strike a better balance for ourselves.

Since self-care will never be federally mandated, it is up to each person to find ways to live and work sustainably. Sustainable living is not just about recycling. It is about sustaining our own personal well-being so that we remain green and growing for our entire lives.

Far too many of us are like rabbits running at a breakneck pace to get ahead and finish first. We would be better off to emulate turtles who know the value of turning inward and resting. Quit trying to keep up with everyone else and focus on your own progress.

The new year is just around the corner. What changes can you make to find a better work/life balance? How can you create a more sustainable way of living and working? In what ways can you unplug in order to get more turned on personally and professionally? Here is wishing you a slow and steady 2013.



Carrie Pinsky is a Fort Collins-based career and HR advisor. She can be reached at carrie@pinkskywriting.com.