A Publication of WTVP

Leaders and workers struggle to take time off from work. In short, Americans are often overworked. Researchers have found that Americans work more hours on average than workers in eight other industrial countries. Although the study revolved around an average of 81 hours a week for dual-earner parents, many Americans routinely work more than 50 to 60 hours a week.

But there’s additional trouble for American workers. A survey by the independent Families and Work Institute sampled 1,003 American workers and found that 36 percent of the respondents didn’t plan to use all of their vacation time. In addition, most workers said they take less than a week of their vacation time.

As we near 2007, we keep discovering how much life has changed. We’re all working too hard. In a global economy, work takes place 24 hours a day and 365 days a year—or so we’re told. However, many workers opt to use six to eight weeks of vacation each year in both Europe and Asia. In other countries, the calendar is pro-rated so everybody can take their turn at getting time off. But in America, we all work much more, and take less time—real time—off.

Even when we leave Peoria, we find it hard to relax. If our vacations are shorter than a week, we barely get the necessary rest needed to rejuvenate. A number of us really don’t “unplug,” either. We check our e-mail, watch our Blackberries and cell phones, and call to check our messages. Sometimes we do these things because we are compulsive and cannot let go of business. Some of us work for demanding bosses who will not allow us to be out of touch. Some of us are fearful that, if we’re gone for more than a few days, we’ll be replaced. We want to be “indispensable.”

As we approach the holidays, many of you who are reading this column must participate in family activities which may involve a quick trip somewhere. Even in the best ways, families can also be demanding, leaving us without a chance to relax, sleep or visit with our spouses and children.

We need to take some time (okay, maybe schedule some time) to reflect on our lives and how we make the choices we live with. If we lead or manage a business or organization, we need to think about the ethical dilemmas regarding time and the difficult options we give to employees. And yes, there are ethical choices about the use of time—and time off.

Employers should answer a few key ethical questions. Are employees (or ourselves) treated as automatons rather than human beings? This question brings up two additional questions to ask. Do we view those who work for us as human beings who give only what they can? Do we view those who work for us as economic assets rather than as people? As leaders, we may not admit that our demands are excessive and that people can be damaged by too many unending demands—sort of the Scrooge effect in the workplace. It is unethical to dehumanize and overwork those who work for us. They need time off. We need time off, and we need to schedule the flow of work with those elements in mind. After taking note of workplace efforts, one of the best things business and organizational leaders can say to employees is, “Take some time off!”

As workers, we have to consider the limits to our role at work. We are not indispensable, and we are not workplace saviors. We have limits and, ethically, we need to live within our limits. If we don’t, we can burn out and do damage to relationships in the office, and to the long-term success of the business. When we recognize our limits, we realize that we need to be away from work so we can recharge and recreate ourselves.

As human beings, we face perhaps the most important ethical test of all, deciding if we are good stewards of the bodies we have and the relationships in our lives. By working too hard, too much or too often, we are unethical. Our bodies will give out from exhaustion, illness and depression if we misuse them. Time off can help us to recharge and renew and to rebuild relationships— great directions in personal ethics. IBI