Work and Stress

  "Work should be in order to live. We don’t live in order to work. That shift in awareness is necessary."
-- Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work.

Overview & Connection to a New Dream

How do you feel when you leave work? Does the closing office door signify the end of a harried, stressful situation until the next morning? Do you feel that you’ve been worked, and all you really want to do is lie down and rest? Is earning a living taking too much life out of you?

Too often it seems that our identity is defined by our jobs. How often have you met someone and been asked, "What do you do?" Inevitably, we interpret that question as "What do you do FOR A JOB?" Yet that which defines us often fails to embrace all values and experiences that make us feel happy and fulfilled. We often feel stressed, long for more time, and regret that the free time we do have isn’t enough for what’s important to us.

As a society, we work longer and longer hours, despite all predictions that our leisure time would increase. As arbitrary as the 40+ hour work week is (Congress almost passed a 30 hour work week in the 1930s), it has become the accepted standard--even though we could produce our 1948 standard of living in less than half the time it took in that year! (1) Instead of reaping this productivity gain in the form of more time off, as many European nations did, Americans reaped an explosion of consumerism and "stuff."

Many of us are beginning to feel the price is too high. We’re tired of the work, spend, consume cycle. It’s not turning out the way we once envisioned it would. There’s something missing, something so basic we might skip right over it. We want more time. We yearn for less time on the job, more time for ourselves. Less time in rush hour congestion, more time with our children. We want time to relax, time for long forgotten hobbies and projects. We ache for quiet time or time to express creative side or do volunteer work. Perhaps we even ache for a career shift more in line with our values and interests – a job that would leave us impassioned and fulfilled, not just pay the bills. Most likely we backed away when we realized this dream could require a substantial pay cut. Those bills won’t pay themselves!

But an increasing number of Americans are weighing the options and saying "Enough!" The 1995 Yearning for Balance poll found 28% of respondents had reduced work hours or otherwise downshifted to a lower salary in the previous five years. While many of these downshifters said they missed the extra money, 87% said they were happy about the change. They also described themselves as happier and more involved with their community than non-downshifters. (2)

If downshifting isn’t feasible for you, perhaps there’s a middle way. Here’s a few of the most popular alternative work arrangement:

  • Flex Time - See if you can rearrange your work schedule to accommodate childcare or other activities. Instead of working 9 to 5, work 8 to 4 or 10 to 6. Or work four 10-hour days instead of five 8-hour days.
  • Telecommuting - With a computer, modem and fax machine, it’s easy to stay in touch with the office from home while avoiding the commute.
  • Job sharing - Two people share one job. A new twist to part-time work.

Of course, it’s not all about time. It’s about stress and personal balance too. The advent of voicemail, fax, email, and beepers has exponentially increased the number of messages that bombard workers on the job. We can argue whether the productivity gains outweigh the heightened stress, but one point is indisputable - more than ever, we must consciously set aside time to "get away" and balance ourselves physically, spiritually, and psychologically. As individuals, we can start a daily routine such as taking 15 or 20 minutes to go for a stroll. As an office, we can set aside common space for meditation and maybe a time for optional group gatherings.

So now that you’re considering cutting back your job demands to allow more time for family and other priorities, how can you be sure that you’ll have enough money to live securely? Continue the New Dream Puzzle tour with the money/personal finance piece and find out!


  1. Juliet Schor, The Overworked American
  2. Yearning for Balance poll,

Copyright (c) 1999 CNAD
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