The other thing Norway and Italy and other enlightened countries do is to place leisure at a high premium In these countries, the standard workweek is legally required to be fewer than forty hours. According to Kitty, the offices of Shell Oil in Norway clear out at 5 PM every day not because the employees are slackers, but because they understand the importance of being home to enjoy time with their families. And their government backs them up with laws that reinforce this value system.
Ironically, Kitty shared that she has to explain to expats who come to Norway from the United States that employees who leave at 5 PM aren’t being indolent. “Americans seem to think more hours means better work. But we have a different view of life. We believe we do our best work by being efficient in the office and having a fulfilling life outside of it,” Kitty said.
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Here in the United States, we are conflicted by notions of leisure. Work is what matters. Our standard workweek? For the typical American, only 40 percent who work full-time report they clock the “standard” forty hours a week.138 Professionals average forty-nine hours per week, and nearly 20 percent report they work more than sixty hours each week.
And vacation? The United States is the only westernized country in the world that does not legally require any paid vacation days. Every single country in the European Union requires at least four weeks of paid vacation.139 Ah, that’s the life.
What’s the net effect of our refusal to support leisure? Gallup has tracked employee engagement for years.140 As of 2014, only 31 percent of American workers report being “engaged” in their jobs and Millennials report the least engagement of all. What does this mean for the economy? Around $350 billion in lost productivity.141 But these losses are about more than money. They reflect our silent strike against a system that is not working for any of us.
According to Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, economic theory would lead one to believe that if our basic needs are met, then with our additional financial resources we would buy ourselves leisure. He wrote, “One might have assumed that reasonable people would have decided to enjoy both more goods and more leisure. That is what happened in Europe. But America took a different turn as women joined the labor force with less leisure per household and more and more goods.”142
So we convinced ourselves we needed things, not leisure, and, because we needed workers to enable the economy to grow and make these things, we encouraged women to join the workforce. But we didn’t provide them with the necessary supports they needed to put their family obligations aside and focus on work. The result? For the last thirty years, this country has built its success on the backs of women and at the expense of families. Why? Because we still have not reconciled to the reality that mothers actually work outside of the home.
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