Away From Your Desk: American Work Culture and Work Seperation Anxiety


Who doesn’t love a good vacation? Whether you love your job or hate it, promises of relaxation or adventure is irresistible. As modern Americans, we often pride ourselves in working hard and playing hard. There is nothing better than refreshing yourself after another a good day of work. However, most adults spend the majority of their days at their occupation out of necessity. As a study has shown, that may be breeding something else in us. We joke about being married to our work, but is there more reality to it than we expected?  After some research, it seems that the anxiety to miss work may be more common than most think. Although most company offerings paid vacation days, many Americans choose to remain on the clock. There’s nothing wrong with loving your job, but are we staying in the cubicle out of necessity, or are we addicted to work?

According to TSheets, an employee survey company, a lot of Americans aren’t taking advantage of their precious day offs. In a survey conducted in March 2018, only 35% of employees choose to use up all their paid days off. Most employees only took a fraction of the day off and some took none at all. When asked why almost every 1 in 3 participants (32%) expressed that they felt pressured to not take any day offs. In certain company cultures, employees are pressured to work without taking their paid days off, because of guilt and fear of falling behind their colleagues. Some participants reported that they felt uncomfortable even asking to take days off. This completive company culture encourages maximum efficiency, but at the expense of their employees. According to TSheets, 43% of participants feel are often and always stressed. There’s nothing wrong with working hard, but it can be argued that there is something toxic in a company that can’t see the benefit in healthy, well-adjusted employees. They know that their employees are people and not robots, right?

Thankfully, there are people that aren’t afraid of utilizing their days off. However, not all of them are using it to get some rest. Of the people who took some paid days off, 60% of them reported doing work while on vacation. 24% of them work while they were on sick leave. Imagine your average 9 to 5, but your body is against you. You’re at home, stewing in a bed of tissues. It doesn’t feel a vacation. Some of us know these feelings all too well, but some simply choose not to. 89% of employees said that they choose to come in sick for work instead of wasting their vacation days. We’ve all come to work or school with some sniffles, but this practice is prevalent in all the wrong places. In the healthcare field, 15% of employees admitted to coming to work sick at least once a week. 32% of people in the service field do not receive paid day offs at all. These are the fields where direct contact with other people and the spreading germs is almost unavoidable. You might think that this issue is specific to demanding career fields, but you’d wrong. Overall occupations, 19% of employees choose to work sick at more than once a month. That is almost 1 in every 5 people, and they are the prime example of what becomes of the companies that motivate their people the wrong way.

Of the people that choose to take a fraction or none of their days of, only 43% are able to carry their vacation time over to the next year, preparing for the vacation of their lifetime. Others are a little more money orientated. In fact, when asked if they’d prefer more vacation time or more money, 74% of employees would rather have more cash in their pockets. 32% of participants gave up their vacation days for an annual bonus, whether or not their company allows them to allocate their lost time to next year’s paid vacation days. However, 24% didn’t use all their days even though company policy doesn’t allow carryovers. You might think that these employees simply enjoy their jobs a bit too much, and you might be right. When a society promotes working hard with guilt trips and monetary incentives, it is hard to say no. Over time, this enthusiasm might lead to something else. When Dr. Suzanne Degges-White wrote about the TSheets study, she made a connection when her friend shared worries about her husband who was loving his work dangerously. Her husband was not so much a typical workaholic, but his mind was absolutely consumed with work. He thought about his work incessantly and these thoughts manifested in illusions of failure and disaster in his company if he wasn’t there to keep everything running smoothly. His worst fears were only over when he was at work, and it came back to him in waves of angst and agitation when the work-day was over.

As Dr. Deggs-White listened, she recognized many symptoms of separation anxiety disorder in this poor man’s behavior. Like the overwhelming fear children experience while away from their parents, her friend’s husband was experiencing withdraw from missing work. In her own words, Dr. Deggs-White determined that work separation anxiety “affects individuals who feel the need to ensure that everything happens just as it should on the job—even when it’s not necessarily their responsibility or when they are not even literally ‘on’ the job”(Deggs-White). This disorder may not only have its roots in how society generates productivity from their employees but also how society impacts the way we thought about our future. Even from a young age, we are eagerly looking for our place in the working world. Ask a child what they want to be when they grow up, and they will tell you their favorite job. Even as children, we understood the value society places on occupations and their importance in a functioning society. Over time, we seek to enter society by “becoming” our job title. We are a teacher. We are an office worker. We are what we do for a living. Under the company pressure to not only do well but to exceed your colleagues and to be ashamed when you do not, these expectations accelerate how deeply we perceive ourselves as our career. Work separation anxiety agonizes those who rely upon too much of their existence in the success and role of their career. When people like Dr.Degg-White’s friend’s spouse sees his place in the world as his job, to be away from from the office would be a total disconnect to his sense of self. Like a child without their guardian, people with work separation anxiety are lost outside their workplace. Although there is no official cure for work separation anxiety, there is hope. Just as society has conditioned workers to marry their work, there is a way to undo the vow. Counselors and other mental health professionals can help people regain a sense of self outside of the corporate world. By realizing that there is more to ourselves than our work, we can finally be ready to determine our own deservings and happiness.

References:

Degges-White, S. (2018, July 3). Work separation anxiety: More than a sense of responsibility. Retrieved from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/lifetime-connections/201807/work-separation-anxiety-more-sense-responsibility

How much PTO should I give my employees. (n.d.). Retrieved from TSheet website: https://www.tsheets.com/resources/pto-survey

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