Sunday, January 25, 2009

Work to Live or Live to Work?

Do Americans work to live or are they workaholics who live to work? We all seem to know someone whose life revolves around their work. It takes (or appears to) priority over everything else in their life, including their spouse and family. I once saw a segment on the news (or one of those news "shows" like 20/20 or Dateline) about foolish workaholics who are frighteningly addicted to their jobs or business. One woman even had a setup so that she wouldn't miss a call while she was showering! Sure, America was supposedly built on the work ethic, and there is no doubt that it's sorely lacking in some, but there are other values people. After all, life is short, and with the limited time we all have, we should seek balance in our lives, including plenty of leisure.

I once worked in sales for a company selling computer software. I had met a young, very sweet woman there from Germany. She was in the US living here and staying with relatives. We had several long conversations, but something that came up again and again was her impression that in the United States you are basically on your own. She expressed a strong desire to return to Germany where she wouldn't have to be afraid all the time of losing a job and then feeling completely on her own and possibly forced to live in her car or on the street (as a side note, at a couple of places I've worked, I've known co-workers who were living out of their cars and sleeping in them because they could no longer afford to rent an apartment). Barak Obama has also mentioned what he called the "you're on your own" society.

Europeans also apparently take many more vacations then Americans do, as discussed here.

It seems unfair to me that this way of thinking doesn't appear to exist over in the U.S. It's not just a case of being wealthy, as holidays abroad seem to apply to almost everyone in Europe, whether a cleaning lady or a lawyer.

And from some of the comments:

Definitely a difference. One reason must be the complete lack of paid holidays poor US citizens get!
Here in Sweden I get 30 PAID holidays a year - plus a lot of other days off like Christmas Eve, Easter and so on...

Having lived in Denmark and experienced their 6 weeks of vacation a year and family-friendly work policies, I agree with you that the American corporate culture is terrible. Here in the US people are lucky to get 2 weeks of vacation a year, and God forbid if they get sick.

Well...US is a capitalist country where people are hungry to make money. Also, they don't have a national regulation like Denmark, where one has to take 5 weeks of holidays. It's mandatory!
That's why I'm looking forward to move to DK, to experience a more relaxing life with tons of fun.

My husband says it's a difference of values--we value money and things, Europeans value expierences and memories.

So, is it true? Do Americans work too much?


  1. I just found your blog. Interesting post.

    Absolutely! I also agree that we live in a "all on your own" society as well. If I can't pay my bills I'm on the street.

    My husband and I haven't had a real vacation in years. I work 7 days a week. Not because I want to but because I am trying to do what I love. So far that doesn't pay the I end up working another job as well. Sometimes I wonder if it's all worth it and other times I know it is. That try and make a life out of what you love to do.

  2. Thanks Tashai, for taking the time to comment. I admire you for doing something you love. If at some point you can make a living doing it, it will definitely be worth it. And it's always worthwhile to pursue a dream and enjoy what you do, even if it doesn't pay the bills. Best of luck to you.


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