Tuesday, November 20, 2012

More Overtime, Less Overtime Pay

The prior post quoted Allison Pugh, who stated that “Americans work more hours than anyone in the universe.”  Well, obviously that is a bit of hyperbole. 

Frankly, we don’t know how much (or how little) anyone works on other planets.  (That’s a joke.) 

On a serious note, it is important to recognize that people in developing nations definitely work very hard for very little.  Indeed, I remember seeing an article not long ago that indicated people in Mexico worked the most of any nation on our planet.  And we know that the people in the People’s Republic of China often work long, hard hours under exploitive conditions to fill our big box stores.  (That is something important to remember later this week when we flock to stores and retail websites.)

So workers in other countries have it worse than we do.  But compared to other prosperous, industrialized nations, Americans do work a lot. 

This first hit home for me when I lived in Europe.  Month long vacations where an entire nation goes off to resorts and factories close down.  Paid maternity leave to care for new family members.  People routinely take off hours mid-day for long lunches or to run errands.  Amazing concepts to an American.

The disparity between Americans and the rest of the industrialized world hit home even harder for me when I was an employee of a large multinational.  I had occasion to work with employees at affiliates in Western Europe, Australia and Canada.   Such non-American employees were often restricted by law to only work a certain number of hours each week—even professionals like lawyers and accountants might not be allowed to work more than 40 hours in a work week.  The non-American employees at our company also got weeks of vacation time each year that American employees would get only after decades of service. 

In the base case, this disparity was quite a thorn in the side of similarly situated American employees.  But when such employees took expat assignments to work for a period in the United States, they got to keep their generous employment conditions.   The thorn is more painful when the disparity is in your face, not separated by an ocean.

I once worked with a European colleague who was on such an expat assignment.  Almost immediately upon arrival, he married his girlfriend and went on an extended honeymoon.  He combined that honeymoon with some vacation time to not come into the office for about six weeks.  This European colleague couldn’t have been more than 30.  I was a more senior employee but only had two weeks vacation each year.  Moreover, I had to pick up some of the slack at his prolonged absence.  It was hard to not be envious or bitter under such circumstances.  Meanwhile, I had only had one American colleague ever take off that much time.  He was in his 60s and he went on a long vacation not long before he retired.

Anyhow, last summer I came across the news report below, which hits upon the issue of Americans working long hours. 

For decades, the news has reported that we Americans have been becoming more and more productive, and we’re among the most productive people in the world.  The report above sheds some light on this high productivity.   The productivity comes from working a lot of hours, not necessarily due to efficiency.

Most “exempt” employees I know work well beyond 40 hours each week.  People don’t even call it “overtime” anymore because 50-90 hours/week is the expected norm.  Many American workers have significant fears of not meeting that expected norm.  In most professional settings, if you don’t work those long hours, management thinks you’re a slacker and your colleagues get resentful that you’re getting away with something they aren’t. 

But the report at the link above doesn’t focus on such “exempt” employees.  The report describes allegations that non-exempt workers (e.g., hourly wage earners) are being pressured to work longer hours—for free.  These allegations have led to class actions.

When a single parent or two co-parents have to work excessively long hours, there is little time left over to care for one’s family.  Again, as mentioned in the prior post, in such situations, one’s focus understandably is to take care of the most urgent responsibilities, i.e., to make sure everyone is fed and clothed.  A second tier of responsibilities are next in the pecking order, e.g., dental appointments and making sure homework is done.  For too many families these days, bonding and instilling values in children are a luxury that is easily sacrificed.  It really concerns me what happens to the next generation and to our society when child-rearing is relegated to such a low priority.



1 Corinthians 12:27

You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.  In the church, God has appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues.  All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they?  All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they?  Use your ambition to try to get the greater gifts. And I’m going to show you an even better way.

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