How the cult of overwork keeps women out of the workforce and hurts families
Working the standard 40-hour week isn't enough for many employers who expect employees to spend an extensive amount of time in the office, at the expense of family time.
According to a study in the American Sociological Review, the percentage of American employees working over 50 hours a week has increased from 9 percent (13 percent of men and 3 percent of women) in 1980 to 14 percent in 2000 (19 percent of men and 7 percent of women). The researchers concluded that the growing perception of overwork as a necessity of the business world has helped prevent women from becoming a more active part of the workforce.
"Not only does a greater proportion of workers put in long work hours per week, but long work hours have also become embedded in organizational practices, workplace cultures and beliefs about what it means to be an ideal worker in the contemporary economy," wrote Youngjoo Cha and Kim A. Weeden, the authors of the study.
The study goes on to say that employers now expect their employees to be available 24/7, and that those who work a normal amount of time are looked down on as unproductive or lazy. For many mothers, it isn't always possible to be on call or in the office beyond normal work hours.
"Because mothers, who tend to be the primary parents, feel pressure to be at home and with their children, they sometimes cannot find the extra 10 to 15 hours in their week to keep up with these expectations, nor can they reap the rewards," explained a Time writer in an article about the study.
Currently in the United States, full-time working women earn 77 cents for every dollar men earn, according to Pew Research Center. Though the gender wage gap has narrowed since 1980 (when it was 64 cents to the dollar), it refuses to disappear.
Pew found that 51 percent of mothers say that having a child has made it hard to advance professionally, while only 16 percent of men say the same.
According to Businessweek, "The overwork premium has the effect of especially disadvantaging those who — because they have responsibilities at home, as well as at work — are not able to put in those sorts of hours. Those workers in the U.S. today are still much more likely to be women than men."
In general, employees in the United States are more prone to overwork and have a negative work-life balance than employees of other countries, according to the Center for American Progress. One reason for this, an article published by the center explains, is that employers sometimes assume that fathers remain the primary breadwinner while their wives stay home.
But the reality is the increase in living costs has more women working to help support the family, the center explained, and when two parents are expected to work long hours and be available nights and weekends, it makes it difficult provide all the needs at home.
The problems with overwork go beyond hurting women professionally and taking away from family time. Overworking also damages productivity and takes a toll on the health of the individual, according to the New Yorker.
In response, some companies, such as BambooHR, a human resources start-up in Utah, have streamlined their business techniques so employees work no more than 40 hours a week and don't work at home, a Forbes article pointed out. Goldman Sachs, whose employees need to work longer hours, has encouraged it's investment-banking analysts to work around 70 hours a week (rather than 100) and to take Saturdays off, according to the New Yorker.
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