Many of our own ancestors from all over the world came to the United States with the hopes of fulfilling “The American Dream”. Our democratic set of ideals and values are supposed to provide freedom and allow for the opportunity for any individual’s prosperity and success. We’re taught this from a young age even in social studies classes or textbooks that we can all obtain our own version of success that can be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work. We get inspired as a society and commend hard working people even when taken to the extreme.
Recently, working long hours has become synonymous with entrepreneurship. Elon Musk was publicly praised when he said his workers “should put in 80 to 100 hours a week to change the world". While this remains a motivational viewpoint to achieve success, the U.S. often takes this ethos to the next level. On average, the American citizen works longer hours, takes less vacation, takes their work home by working after hours, and even takes minimal breaks during the day.
Data on American Working Habits
A Gallup report from 2014 estimated that the average full-time worker in the United States works 47 hours a week, one of the highest figures in the world. The U.S. also remains the only industrialized country in the world that has no law requiring time off.
Not only is there data to support our work habits, there’s also more data on the negative effects of our work ethic. Numerous studies by Marianna Virtanen of the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health have found that overwork and the resulting stress can lead to various health problems.
Starting with the Lunch Break
Unfortunately, I am not a legislator nor an employer capable of changing the rules regarding time off or working hours per week. However, I can detail the benefits of something that most people do have the power to change which is the notorious lunch break.
62 percent of professionals say they typically eat lunch at their desks. This can have negative impacts on health, productivity, stress, and concentration. So what can you do differently to change this?
What to do on a Break
Taking a walk at lunch can have a plethora of health benefits. Bristol University found that when workers exercised during their lunch break, they returned to the job with a 41 percent increase in their motivation, and a 21 percent uptick in their concentration. Something as simple as walking around can also improve your physical health. Exercising can have similar results. According to the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, over an eight-week test period workers who got just 10 minutes of exercise during their lunch break three or four times per week said they felt more energetic and resilient in the afternoon.
Another viable option is to unplug your electronics and read or listen to something. The benefits of reading are well known and well published but not necessarily acted on in a workplace environment. Adults who read for just 30 minutes a week reported feeling 20% more satisfied with their lives. Reading is the best way to relax and even six minutes can be enough to reduce the stress levels by more than two thirds, according to new research from Mindlab International at the University of Sussex. This simple daily change can reduce stress levels and slow down your heart rate. Specifically for an attorney reading more could help relate to someone’s background and understand his or her perspective more fully.
Overall there are multiple ways to increase productivity at work and general happiness in life by simply taking a lunch break. You can take a walk, exercise, or read something. However you choose to spend your lunch is up to you, but now you know the mental and physical health benefits that you’ve potentially been missing out on!
https://news.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx https://hbr.org/2015/08/the-research-is-clear-long-hours-backfire-for-people-and-for-companies https://journals.lww.com/joem/Citation/2017/12000/The_Introduction_of_an_Active_Rest_Program_by.2.aspx https://www.besthealthmag.ca/best-you/health/benefits-of-lunch-breaks/