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American Stereotypes: Americans are workaholics

13 Sep 2011

This is the first installment in a new series of articles called "American Stereotypes," which explores stereotypes about Americans. Today's topic is: Americans are workaholics.

A workaholic is a person so obsessed with working and earning money that they often forget to enjoy life. Are Americans workaholics?

More often than we'd like to admit, there's some truth to many stereotypes. In this case, there are even statistics to back it up! But I think the reality of the situation often falls somewhere between the stereotype and the true human experience.

Read more to find out about this common stereotype!

European lifestyle vs. American lifestyle

Europeans are said to have a "lifestyle-oriented" existence. Most European countries value and enjoy extended lunch breaks, where food, family and friends are enjoyed for an hour or more in the middle of the day.

Americans, on the other hand, often eat lunch at their desks and hope to return home to their families in time for dinner!

In several European countries (including Italy, France, Great Britain and Germany) workers enjoy between 28 and 42 vacation days every year, on average. According to the same chart (from 2007), Americans only received 13 days of vacation per year, on average. That's a big difference!

(Here is another great chart comparing the minimum vacation days for several countries. But it's not a great comparison for the USA, because we have no legal minimum.)

The "truth" behind the stereotype

If you're a European, and you hear that the average American gets only 13 vacation days per year, you might think, "Wow, those American companies don't treat their workers very well!"

But consider this: last year, only 38% of Americans used up their vacation days. In fact, the average American received 18 days of vacation (in 2010), but only took 14 days! Why would that be?

In a variety of studies, American workers consistently logged more working hours per capita than any other industrialized nation in the world, including the Japanese - another country known for overworking.

Sounds awful, right? Well, it's not so bad - really! :-)

Freedom and satisfaction

The truth is, a great deal of Americans are very proud of the work they do and the hours they put in. Many Americans work long hours because they gain unsurpassed job satisfaction, even when compared to similar nations.

Personally, I'm self-employed. This means I get to be my own boss and pursue the work I truly love to do! Yes, I work a lot (70+ hours a week). But when you are afforded those freedoms, work seems a lot less like, well, work! And of course, not everyone works that much. :-)

Plus, it's not like we never take vacations! And perhaps it's even possible that we enjoy them more! ;-)

Are Americans really workaholics? Is working a lot unhealthy? Even if it's fun and fulfilling? What do you think? Leave a comment below!

Anonymous's picture

Hi David :-)

You are working 70+ hours per week, but some American works only 4-hour per week and even his wrote book about this :-)

It's a saying "Americans live to work, and Europeans work to live".

All the best

David Snopek's picture

Hi Tom!

I do like Tim Ferris, mostly for his motivational material. But he does not work only 4 hours! :-)

Tim Ferris' entire life is his job. When he flys to Brazil to be in a tango competition, he might call it his vacation/hobby, but really - it's his job.

Because if Tom Ferris stopped living Tom Ferris' life and stopped doing stuff like that, no one would buy his books. What he really did was found a way to make his work a lot of fun. But it's still work! And he is doing it almost every waking hour.

I work 70+ per week. But only maybe 10 hours of it isn't fun. So maybe I should say I have a 10-hour work week? ;-)

Anyway, just my opinion, but I feel very strongly about it.

Best regards,

Posted by: David Snopek | Tuesday, September 13, 2011 - 16:20
Anonymous's picture

Hi David :-)

I agree with you that Tim Ferris not work only 4-hour per week, it was only 4 hour "unpleasant work" that he was called work. And earlier his workweek was about 80+ hrs and in my opinion it's one way (work a lot and hard - to boost own business, then we can use paretto law/delegate/hire assistance to reduce workweek but keep cash flow :-)

But anyone who works 70-80+ hrs per week can reduce to only 4-hour? I don't think so. Everyone who works a lot, has in nature working/doing something and they looking for occasion to do something (maybe isn't "work" in popular sense)

But title of Tim's book is very snappy :-) Most of population work because they have to, have to get money for bills, food etc. and work isn't they hobby.

If you want to be successful, you have to work a lot.


Anonymous's picture

In my time in the workplace, I've observed the following types of workaholics:

-Single and married to their job. They have limited additional social responsibilities and can afford to work long hours without disrupting other aspects of their life.

- Married (at least on paper), missing their kid's concerts/ birthday parties to get caught up on work stuff, and never spends time at home.

I've worked with 2 of these types recently. One at least admits he's addicted to work and admits missing spending time with his adult children when they were young. He answers work emails at home and takes company computer home with him, even on leave.

The other individual was my first boss after college. He was in the office 7 days per week and never spent time with his 3 y/o kid and wife. He had a big house and new car, but is it worth not having a life outside work to pay for it?

-People who work in jobs where it's either feast or famine (i.e. construction jobs with short timelines or teachers with annual summer break). These guys might work like crazy for 6-9 months and then either not work or work light hours during the off-season.

These guys have good reason to work long hours. Plus, they have downtime to look forward to so that they can re-coup.

Many Americans don't even use the vacation time that they've earned, and work like dogs so that they can have enough money for retirement. These types don't realize that one can have a fun and balanced life before you have to move into a nursing home-there is more to life than money.

Posted by: Anonymous (not verified) | Saturday, December 22, 2012 - 17:05