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If you’re one of the 86 percent of men or 67 percent of women in America who work more than 40 hours a week, Inc Magazine thinks you’re a “chump.”

A recent article by Inc contributing editor Geoffrey James, entitled “Only Chumps Work More Than 40 Hours a Week,” may have been written with good intentions, but comes off as ignorant to the reality of millions of working-class Americans. James urged Americans working salaried jobs to stand up for their sanity by simply “refusing to work crazy hours,” saying that it may “irritate your bosses.”

This is a baffling argument, considering that James condemned the fast-paced, high-stress work that comes natural in Silicon Valley as exploitative and designed to exhaust workers until they quit or were fired, in order to hire someone new to follow the same pattern. James cited an excerpt from the book Lab Rats by Dan Lyons, that described this brutal process:

First, you are lucky to be here. Also, we do not care about you. We offer no job security. This is not a career. You are serving a short-term tour of duty. We provide no training or career development. If possible, we will make you a contractor rather than an actual employee, so that we do not have to provide you with health benefits or a 401(k) plan. We will pay you as little as possible. We do not care about diversity: African Americans and Latinos need not apply. Your job will be stressful. You will work long hours under constant pressure and with no privacy. You will [be] monitored and surveilled. We will read your email and chat messages, and use data to measure your performance. We do not expect you to last very long. Our goal is to burn you out and churn you out.

To be clear, the overworking of employees isn’t unique to Silicon Valley. A 2015 investigation by Mother Jones talked about “the great speedup,” which is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “an employer’s demand for accelerated output without increased pay.” The investigation talks about the growing trend of companies pressuring workers to increase output without rewarding them with higher compensation.

“Pundits across the political spectrum revel in the fact that US productivity (a.k.a. economic output per hour worked) consistently leads the world. Yes, year after year, Americans wring even more value out of each minute on the job than we did the year before,” wrote Mother Jones editor-in-chief Clara Jeffrey and CEO Monika Bauerlein. “Except what’s good for American business isn’t necessarily good for Americans … Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans.”

This pattern of exploitation in the workplace is likely a result of declining union membership. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data shows that American union membership declined by roughly 50 percent between 1983 and 2016. Simultaneously, Mother Jones found that growing numbers of American workers are logging more than 50 hours of work per week. And while the real value of the minimum wage since 1990 has gone up by 21 percent, costs of living have increased by 67 percent — more than enough to completely wipe out any wage gains over the last few decades.

The U.S. has also become one of a select few nations — along with countries like Georgia, Guyana, Myanmar, and Suriname — that doesn’t require employers to provide weekly time off or annual paid vacations for employees.

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Countries that don’t require businesses to give employees paid time off (Chart by Mother Jones)
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Countries that don’t require businesses to give employees paid vacations each year (Chart by Mother Jones)

Work-life balance is much more of a priority in other G7 countries like Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Earlier this year, Germany’s unions fought and won a campaign in which workers can opt to cap their work week at just 28 hours for a two-year period, before returning to the standard 35-hour work week. And in the United Kingdom, there’s actually a law against working more than 48 hours in a week. French workers typically get 10 weeks of paid vacation in a year, and also work just 35 hours a week.

Coincidentally, union membership is strong in these countries. A 2015 BBC report estimated that there were roughly six million unionized workers in Germany, and another six million in the United Kingdom, meaning that union workers make up approximately 7.3 percent of the German population (82 million) and 9.8 percent of the British population (66 million). But in the U.S., unionized workers (14.8 million according to BLS statistics) make up just 4.5 percent of the American population (325 million).

Geoffrey James’ article didn’t once mention the word “union” in its indictment of businesses exploiting workers, even though unions have consistently shown a track record of effectiveness in collectively bargaining on behalf of employees’ compensation, benefits, and working conditions. That could be why Amazon workers in New York are already organizing a union in order to demand fairer treatment from their employer. If more workers take after their example, we might actually see a return to work-life balance in America in our lifetimes.

 

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