Slow Down, You’re Going Too Fast, Part I
One of my favorite songs from the 1960s is “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy),” originally released by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966. I was mesmerized by the lyrics, which I still sing daily on my morning walks along the desert trails. This wonderful, free-spirited song begins with, “Slow down, you’re going too fast—You gotta make this morning last / Just kicking down the cobblestones, looking for fun and feelin’ groovy,” and ends with, “I’m dappled and drowsy and ready to sleep / Let the morning time drop all its petals on me / Life, I love you—All is groovy” (Simon, 1966).
The spirit of this song really resonated with me as at the time I felt “trapped in the fast lane,” working in a high-stress job with a health care agency that was grossly understaffed in relation to our overwhelming scope of responsibility. Yearning to break free from my shackles, I was enthralled by the idyllic, free-flowing, live-in-the-moment approach to life this wonderful song portrayed. Little did I know that, some fifty years down the road, the pressure-cooker lifestyle I was caught up in would be accepted as the norm by a huge percentage of frazzled American workers.
The American Dream on Steroids
A young man emigrated from India five years ago to New York, where he works as a financial analyst for a major commercial bank. Throughout most of the year he works upwards of 120 hours per week, leaving less than seven hours per day for sleeping, eating, entertainment, and other non-work-related activities. Despite this grueling existence, he prides himself in that as a twenty-three-year-old he ranks among the top 6 percent of American earners (Hewlett & Luce, 2006).
Thanks to smartphones, notepad laptops, and other high-tech paraphernalia, more and more workers are finding that the demands of their jobs have encroached upon their personal space and family lives on a constant basis (Seiger, 2018; “NYC bill,” 2018). Findings of the 2017 annual Gallup work and workplace survey indicate that among employees who use e-mails at work, a full 63 percent check work-related e-mails outside of normal working hours either frequently (36 percent) or occasionally (27 percent). Furthermore, over half of these employees (53 percent) perceive that it is important to check e-mails while away from work in order to get ahead in their workplace. Gallup survey findings also state that in 2013 a full 37 percent of workers surveyed felt that their companies were understaffed in relation to the amount of work that needs to be done (Gallup, 2017).
In New York City, the “city that never sleeps,” concern over the intrusive impact of off-the-job electronic communications has reached the point where City Council Member Rafael Espinal has introduced a proposal that would bar employers from requiring workers to respond to nonemergency e-mails, texts, and other digital communications outside regular work hours. Quoting from the bill’s sponsor, “Work has spilled into our personal lives. We’re always connected to our phones or a computer once we leave the office” (Hajela, 2018). He adds that it is critically important for people to be “able to draw a clear line between the workplace and their personal lives, to give them time to connect with their family and friends, and reduce their stress levels and be able to go back to work and perform at their optimal level” (Hajela, 2018).
Placing this into perspective, these off-the-job intrusions come on top of increasingly longer workweeks. For the years 2013 and 2014 combined, Gallup survey results estimated that the average workweek had climbed to 46.7 hours (McGregor, 2014). The reported workweek was even longer for salaried workers (averaging forty-nine hours), a group that is exempt from requirements that they receive overtime pay. Indeed, half of salaried full-time employees reported they work fifty or more hours each week (McGregor, 2014).
A decade-old Harvard Business Review article titled “Extreme Jobs: The Dangerous Allure of the Seventy-Hour Workweek” graphically portrays the pervasive “workaholic ethic” that permeates our culture (Hewlett & Luce, 2006). Extensive research conducted by the authors portrays the emergence of “corporate hero” prototypes as modern warriors with a gross addiction to adrenaline, who wear their over-seventy-hour workweek as a “badge of honor,” along with their gravitation toward fast-paced work under tight deadlines, an inordinate scope of responsibility that extends far beyond the confines of one job, around the clock availability to their clients, and the gargantuan salaries and other perks associated with their top level, pressure-cooker jobs. Feeding into this workaholic frenzy is management’s desire to squeeze as many hours of work as possible out of these “exempt” employees before springing for another fully-loaded salary.
A heavy work ethic has permeated our nation since its inception and we are the epitome of an uncontrollably materialistic culture. While the US contains less than 5 percent of the world’s population, environmental scientists report that we eat 15 percent of the world’s meat, use 20 percent of the world’s energy, and produce 40 percent of the world’s garbage (Elert, 2012).
I submit that our wanton consumption is driven largely by a corporate ethos that enshrines pursuit of profit to the max, accompanied by an incessantly aggressive campaign to convince us that “more is better.” Most unfortunately, this prevailing ethos fosters a mindset among corporate leadership that tends to view workers as mere tools of production. I earnestly believe that the majority of workers harbor noble aspirations, together with a high level of dedication to their work, their families, and society at large.
While economists claim that we now have a near full-employment economy, major corporations routinely lay off thousands of workers when reported earnings fall below projected targets. This fosters a deep-seated sense of insecurity among workers, leaving them increasingly vulnerable to intrusive practices that threaten to undermine the quality of their lives and relationships with friends and family.
The Price We Pay
So now let us take a look at the price we pay for all of this. At a societal level, we pay a heavy price in terms of erosion of core values that have historically promoted balanced, fulfilling lives and a commitment to caring for others. I believe that when a heavily influential segment of society tunes out the human side of business, we all tend to become desensitized to the detrimental consequences of our individual and collective choices and actions. Not the least of these is the rampant devastation of our precious natural resources, seemingly with no regard to preserving the livability of our planet for future generations.
Let us now take a brief look at some data suggestive of overall ramifications of our excessive workaholic culture affecting our overall state of health and well-being.
In the realm of addiction, our nation’s epidemic of rampant workaholism provides a perfect set-up for relapse to alcohol and/or drug abuse, unless people in recovery institute appropriate preventative measures. This is an area where adhering to the wisdom inherent in Twelve Step slogans—particularly “easy does it” and “one day at a time”—can provide tangible assistance.
Our nation also harbors an astronomical number of people suffering from anxiety disorders and major depression. Anxiety disorders annually affect some forty million American adults age eighteen and older, or 18.1 percent of the population (ADAA, 2016). Major depression, the leading cause of disability, affects more than 16.1 million adults, or 6.7 percent of the US population age eighteen and older (ADAA, 2016). According to an article in The New York Times, our rate of suicide, the tenth leading cause of death, reached a thirty-year high in 2014, claiming 42,773 lives (Tavernise, 2016). I suspect that the dehumanizing aspects of our accelerated, fast-lane culture are a significant contributing factor to these disturbing statistics.
Finally, we need to consider the effect on our families of our cultural addiction to living on overdrive. Indeed, the American family is in a deeply troubled state of affairs; some 40 percent of all children are born out of wedlock and our collective divorce rate has hovered at around 50 percent for decades (CDC, 2017; APA, 2018). Frazzled parents, caught up in self-absorbed pursuits and/or attempting to juggle too many external demands, are far too often either unwilling or unable to experience meaningful, in-depth involvement with each other and their children.
Smartphones and iPads have become the nation’s babysitters—pathetic substitutes for caring human interaction. Among frightening numbers of children as well as adults, meaningful direct communication has become a lost art. This disturbing trend fosters a growing sense of isolation, despair, and loss of purpose among a large segment of our population. This poses truly frightening ramifications concerning the future plight of people in our society and indeed throughout the world, concerning their ability to live truly meaningful lives within the context of an increasingly uncaring and depersonalizing world.
In the second and final column in this series I will provide suggestions concerning steps we can take both individually and collectively to counteract this devastating epidemic of “hurry sickness” in our society. Until next time—to your health!
About the Author
John Newport, PhD, is an addiction specialist, writer, and speaker living in Tucson, Arizona. He is author of The Wellness-Recovery Connection: Charting Your Pathway to Optimal Health While Recovering from Alcoholism and Drug Addiction. You may visit his website www.wellnessandrecovery.com for information on wellness and recovery trainings, wellness coaching by telephone, and program consultation services that he is available to provide.
American Psychological Association (APA). (2018). Marriage & divorce. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/topics/divorce/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA). (2016). Facts & statistics. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (2017). Unmarried childbearing. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/unmarried-childbearing.htm
Elert, E. (2012). Daily infographic: If everyone lived like an American, how many earths would we need? Popular Science. Retrieved from https://www.popsci.com/environment/article/2012-10/daily-infographic-if-everyone- lived-american-how-many-earths-would-we-need
Gallup. (2017). Work and workplace. Retrieved from http://news.gallup.com/poll/1720/work-work-place.aspx
Hajela, D. (2018). Boss buzzing you after hours? NYC proposal would let you say buzz off. Retrieved from http://www.mcall.com/business/mc-nws-new-york-city-after-work-contact-20180406-story.html
Hewlett, S. A., & Luce, C. B. (2006). Extreme jobs: The dangerous allure of the seventy-hour workweek. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2006/12/extreme-jobs-the-dangerous-allure-of-the- 70-hour-workweek
McGregor, J. (2014). The average workweek is now forty-seven hours. The Washington Post. Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/on-leadership/wp/2014/09/02/the-average-work-week-is-now-47-hours/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.d5f63dd47d04
“NYC bill would shield workers from bosses’ after-work e-mails.” (2018). Retrieved from https://www.nbcdfw.com/news/local/Bill-Would-Make-it-Illegal-for-New-Yorkers-to-Respond-to-Emails-During-Non-Work-Hours-477737223.html
Seiger, T. (2018). Proposed NYC bill would bar employers from requiring after-hours work. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Retrieved from https://www.ajc.com/news/national/proposed-nyc-bill-would-bar-employers-from-requiring-after-hours-work/cDKKqoGPeDbDnnWMLJ1QJP/
Simon, P. (1966). The 59th street bridge song (feelin’ groovy) [Simon and Garfunkel]. On Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme [Record]. 1966. New York, NY: Columbia.
Tavernise, S. (2016). US suicide rate surges to a thirty-year high. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/22/health/us-suicide-rate-surges-to-a-30-year-high.html