Feeling overworked

Allison Suesse

Being overworked as a college student is common, and it doesn’t get any better after college.

After graduation, professionals entering the U.S. work force should expect to be overworked. Recent studies have concluded that Americans acquire more arduous work schedules than the citizens of any other industrialized nation.

Terry Besser, professor of sociology, said the surge in overworking is caused, in large part, by a “keep-up-with-the-Joneses” mentality – which translates to Americans being individually driven and consumer-oriented.

“We need to keep up with what we want,” Besser said. “Self-worth is net worth.”

A study by the Families and Work Institute shows that for employees who work more than 20 hours per week, hours have increased from 43.6 hours in 1977 to 47.1 hours in 1997, an increase of 3.5 hours per week.

Kathy Wieland, program coordinator for Business Career Services, said the surge in hours worked by employees is a result of modern technology. She said the Internet and mobile tools such as laptops and cell phones have “blurred the line between being at work and being at home.”

Besser said employees don’t want to work more, but competition in the workplace is causing employees to take on an unwanted amount of work. Wieland said the decline in the job market in 2001 and 2002 caused employees to lose their jobs, forcing workers to take on more hours to ensure steady employment in the future.

According to another study performed by the Families and Work Institute, Americans have reduced their amount of vacation time to keep up with career demands. According to the study, just one-third of American employees plan on taking vacations.

Wieland said these findings show that Americans are the hardest-working people in the world.

“We are, historically, the most successful economy. People would say this is because of production,” she said. “We could work four days a week, but would we be the same economic achievers we are? I’d have to doubt it.”

Although workplace production is higher in America, it comes at the expense of employees suffering from clinical depression due to the stress and pressures of the workplace. The study conducted by the Families and Work institute found that 21 percent of employees who feel chronically overworked show symptoms of clinical depression.

Besser said some of the conditions that stem from overworking include sleep deprivation, susceptibility to contagious diseases and decline in mental health. The ramifications of overworking extend into family life as well, she said.

“Americans have no time to be together [as a family],” Besser said. “Parents are too exhausted for parenting, and kids are raising themselves.”

Besser believes overworking employees is “not a sustainable way to run an economy.”

Although the results of taking on long hours are often negative, Wieland said today’s college student is prepared to take on these demanding careers.

“We have a trend of students looking for jobs with a purpose. People want to contribute to society,” she said.

Despite this, Besser said today’s generation of college students entering the workforce could possibly change the trend of overworking. She said college students have the option of being politically active to make sure protection for employees, such as required vacation days to prevent overtiredness, are implemented.

Both Wieland and Besser said that, despite the overworking epidemic, college students are prepared to work these long hours.

“If students are doing extra things such as taking on leadership roles and finding internships, they are already prepared to work long hours,” Wieland said. “Students are already cramming a lot into their days and nights.”

Christina Ketelsen, senior in political science, is graduating this semester and will attend law school As a student, she is comfortable with the fact that she will be required to work long hours. To deal with the demands of these long hours, Ketelsen said, “I will try to find a group of friends in a similar situation to be a good support base.”