Your Work Week Keeps Getting Longer Without Vacay

by Lulu Chang

Work hard, play hard may be a key part of the American mentality, but lately, the latter part of that saying has been losing a lot of ground. A recent Gallup poll revealed that the full time employee's average work week has climbed to 46.7 hours, the highest it's been since 2001. And to add insult to injury, the US remains the only well-established economy that has no mandatory vacation policy. So not only are you working harder, you're probably playing less.

According to the Gallup survey, there is now an even divide between Americans who work less than 40 hours a week and those who work more. In fact, a surprising one-sixth of Americans work more than 60 hours a week, which assuming a five day work week, means that these individuals are pulling 12 hour days.

Over 20 percent of Americans say they work between 50 and 59 hours, and only a lucky 8 percent of those surveyed reported working fewer than 40 hours a week. While an extra few hours a week may not seem like much, the 47 hours a week is essentially the equivalent of tacking an extra day onto the work week. So if you feel like your weekend is too short, it's probably because it quite literally is.

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Of course, working longer hours doesn't always mean a decreased quality of life. The happier you are with your job, the more willing you may be to put in a few extra hours a week. As Gallup noted, "highly engaged workers who log well over 40 hours will still have better overall well-being than actively disengaged workers who clock out at 40 hours."

But then again, being happy with your job likely necessitates a decent work-life balance, and Gallup's numbers showed that a measly 13 percent of respondents said they actually enjoyed going to work.

As miserable as these numbers may be, it is possible that there is a degree of overestimation going on. Gallup found that those who worked longer hours often exaggerated their weekly totals (because after 40 hours, it just feels like a lifetime). For example, a few participants who claimed to work around 75 hours a week were instead found to work 50 hours — still over the federal standard of full-time employment, but certainly nowhere near as taxing as initially reported numbers.

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Regardless of the margin of error, it should be noted that the 40 hour work week is the norm by which "many federal employment laws — including the Affordable Care Act, or 'Obamacare,'" define their benefits. But the majority of Americans are going above and beyond this benchmark, and salaried employees are even more likely to pull longer hours. Their average actually hits 49 hours per week, whereas hourly, waged workers work 45 hours per week. Because companies don't have to concern themselves with paying overtime to these individuals, there seems to be little incentive to send them home at 5 p.m. after coming in at 9 a.m.

Although salaried workers are thought to make more than wage workers, their average hourly pay often evens out when hours are taken into consideration. Investment bankers in New York, for example, often report work weeks of around 100 hours, with a starting salary of about $100,000 (including their $75,000 base and $20,000 bonus). With New York's tax rate, employees can expect to take home around 70 percent of their paycheck, which leaves around $70,000. This works out to about $13.50 an hour, or less than Seattle's minimum wage.

Of course, this is a rough estimate that must be taken with a grain of salt, but it certainly drives home the idea of America being one of the most overworked nations in the world.

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While I might be able to stomach the idea of working long hours that are offset by long vacations, the state of the vacation in the USA is desolate, to say the least. Not only is the United States one of the only nations in the world without paid parental leave (countries outside of Europe get 12 weeks, and European nations boast at least 20 weeks off to take care of newborns), but we are also one of only 13 countries in the world not to mandate paid vacations.

Earlier this month, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that a whopping 26 million American workers, nearly 25 percent of our workforce, don't receive paid time off. This represents a 5 percent increase since 1990, when 20 percent of employees didn't have paid vacation days.

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Worse yet, there is a marked discrepancy between the amount of paid time off low earners receive when compared to higher earners. Whereas less than half of those in the bottom quarter of salaries have the luxury of vacation, 90 percent in the top quarter are paid to take a break. Although this lack of federally required paid leave is consistent with American attempts to stay out of their business' business, John Schmitt, senior economist and co-author of the Labor Statistics report told Forbes, "Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked."

So the next time you manage to find the time and the funds to go on vacation, consider heading to Europe, which guarantees up to 30 paid vacation days, and just stay awhile.

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