Why do Americans work so much?

Work culture differs from one country to another. But one thing most countries have in common is the premium attached to hard work. However, residents of some countries work more than others. Among developed countries, Americans are one of the hardest workers. So, why do Americans work so much?

Americans spend the most time at work annually among developed countries. This is due to the need to earn more, culture, lack of protective laws, less vacation time, reduced influence of labor unions, competition among companies, financial insecurity, and absence of proper metrics for productivity.

However, the average American usually works less than 40 hours per week which means most are not overworking. They take fewer breaks in a year. Here, we discuss why Americans work so much.

Average Work Week in the US

There are slight disparities in the average hours that Americans work per week. According to Zippia, the average work week in the US is 34.4 hours. But there are disparities based on age and gender. For example, people between 25 and 54 spend 40.5 hours, while men spend 41 hours. However, Trading Economics puts it at 34.6 hours for private nonfarm employees, while those in manufacturing had a work week of 40.5 hours.

On average, most Americans spend around 40 hours a work week. Yet they work more than their counterparts in other developed countries annually. They spend more days on the job and take less vacation. Yet Americans spend more hours at work annually compared to other developed countries.

The Washington Center for Equitable Growth study defines overwork as any work above 40 hours a week. It discovered the number of people overworking varies by profession. 30% of those in the legal services and management overwork. 20% of those in forestry, fishing, and farming also complained of the same thing. Those in finance, business, architecture, and engineering also indicated that working long hours was the norm.

Factors Leading Americans to Overwork

There are a lot of reasons causing Americans to work more hours. They include:

1.  More Hours Equals More Money

Americans usually spend more hours at work than citizens of other developed countries. Working more hours for low-income workers who earn per hour usually means getting paid more. Several low-level jobs pay per hour. This means that the more hours a person clocks in, the more money they’ll earn at the end of the day. 

2.  Mindset And Culture

Several Americans also have a work-focused mindset. Over the years, hard work and making one’s one work a passion has become the mantra. This is partially due to the capitalist economic system in the country. But the work culture has been ingrained so much that people still find a way to do more work even after leaving the office. This goes beyond income.

A survey by the Minneapolis Fed in 2005 discovered that the richest 10% of married men also worked the most hours. But the culture is spreading to everyone. For example, a 2018 paper revealed that most women who attend elite universities consider their biggest advantage to be being able to spend more hours in the office. Pew research report also revealed that 95% of teens consider having a career or job they enjoy extremely important as an adult.

3.  Lack Of Appropriate Labor Laws

Employment laws in the US don’t protect workers that much. While it may differ from state to state, most businesses usually enjoy legal protection under the law. As a result, Americans can get fired easily compared to other developed countries. This is because of the lesser protection they enjoy. Economic expert Teresa Ghilarducci says that many Americans are scared of losing their job, which is why they overwork.

There are no laws in the US on how many hours a worker should work. This means that workers have to work as many hours as the employer demands. However, The Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 requires that an employer who works for more than 40 hours a week should be paid a time and a half for extra hours. This has been interpreted to mean their regular hourly wages plus 50%.

However, the law doesn’t stipulate who it covers. Employees that earn hourly wages are included. But the controversy is whether those who collect salaries are also covered. Generally, any salaried employee earning more than $35,568 annually won’t be covered by the law. But each profession may also have its overtime regulations. Beyond that, the overtime rules only apply to employees and not independent contractors. This is an issue since independent contractors make up a significant percentage of the labor force.

4.  Reduced Influence of Labor Unions

Most employers in the US have done everything possible to make sure their workers don’t form a union. As a result, the country has the lowest percentage of the labor force part of a union among OECD countries. This makes it easy for employers to fail in enforcing even the few laws that protect workers. For example, not all hourly workers receive the overtime wages they ought to get. In addition, employers sometimes misclassify salaried employees to exempt them from overtime.

5.  Less Vacation Time

Americans enjoy less vacation time annually compared to other developed countries that form the OECD. They get less time for vacations. But it also turns out that many Americans don’t use up all their vacation.

6.  Economic Inequality and Financial Insecurity

One of the major reasons for many Americans overworking is financial insecurity. This affects everyone, including those who’re even at the top of that income ladder. This has led many to work overtime and more than they should to prove their worth to their employer. According to a 2016 study, several workers, especially salaried employees, do this for this reason.

Most Americans rely on their workplace to enjoy the benefits that people in other rich jurisdictions enjoy through the government. For example, health insurance is usually through the workplace. The student debts that many young people face are one of the issues responsible for work culture. With rising inflation and stagnant wages, it’s even more difficult. So, they resort to working more hours.

Public spending on childcare in the US is one of the lowest among OECD countries. There’s nothing like paid leave for parents in the country’s laws compared to several other developed nations.

7.  Competition Among Companies

Overworking wasn’t always part of the American work culture. In fact, in the 20th century, the more workers earned, the lesser they worked. But that has now changed. Although it’s hard to tell what’s responsible, experts believe companies take most of the blame. Many industries, especially tech and finance, have made overworking part of their culture. This is due to the increasing competition to provide cutting-edge services and solutions. In addition, it’s generally cheaper for companies to pay employees for overtime instead of earning new workers.

8.  Absence Of Appropriate Metric to Measure Productivity

It’s also more difficult to quantify the output of a worker now compared to the Industrial Age. Now, most companies use the number of hours workers spend on the job to determine their dedication. Although this doesn’t always mean the same thing, many have adopted it.

In Conclusion

In the last few decades, the glorification of work has made Americans workaholics even with technological developments. Unfortunately, such a culture isn’t always good, as the hours dedicated to work don’t necessarily determine productivity. It also affects other aspects of the employees’ lives.