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Working longer hours/finding balance in life is growing challenge

Study indicates many of us ‘chronically overworked’

If you are working longer hours and shouldering more responsibility on the job, you are not alone. According to a 2005 study by the Families and Work Institute in New York, one in three employees say they are chronically overworked. Some of this overload is attributed to downsizing and budget cuts that have left many companies understaffed. New technology also makes workers more accessible than they’ve ever been, blurring the line between work and home. Additionally, the study reveals that many American workers do not take their full vacations.

Jackson certified public accountant Robin Word doesn’t think he works too much, but admits he averages 45 to 50 hours of work each week. “I think you can work too much, and it’s hard to separate business and private life,” the 40-year-old said. “I think about it all the time and that’s not good.”

The self-employed CPA says he surrounds himself with good people so he can take time off. He also believes it’s important to eat right and get plenty of exercise.

“It boils down to production versus capacity,” he said. “You have to keep the spiritual and social aspects of maintaining friendships and relationships. Those are important to keep a balance in life.”

As the father of three young sons, he makes time to coach their sports teams and take two weeklong vacations and some long weekends each year. “That keeps me young,” he added.

Part of the culture

Russ Willis, director of human resources at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, says he’s witnessing the trend of more Americans working longer hours.

“I think that is primarily due to American culture,” he said. “As a general rule, most Americans view their careers as a very important part of their lives and want to do well.”

He thinks there are more opportunities for advancement through hard work and ability in the U.S. than in any country in the world. He sees his colleagues at Southern Mississippi working longer hours.

“I am fortunate to work with many hard-working, dedicated professionals who take their jobs very seriously and work long hours,” Willis said. “I think this is due in large part to having a strong commitment to the overall success of the university. Many professionals in higher education view their work with much passion.”

However, the HR professional supports time off from work for himself and his colleagues, noting that it’s a time to spend with family or friends and recharge batteries. “In a university setting, it is typical to get two weeks off in December/January so there is some time off built into the calendar in addition to any vacation,” he said.

Squeezing it in

It’s difficult for Shirley Henderson to take time off. She’s the communications director of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi and editor of the weekly Gulf Pine Catholic newspaper. She recently squeezed in a day off late in the week to spend with her grandchildren.

“It’s so important to take off and refresh yourself, but it’s hard for me because we go to press on Tuesday and there’s no one to take my place,” she said. “Bishop Rodi stresses the importance of time off and encourages us to take the time we’ve earned.”

The Families and Work Institute’s study notes the different mindset regarding vacations that Europeans and Americans have. For Europeans, four weeks off is standard.

Henderson says all the Irish priests and nuns of the diocese make sure they get their vacations and holidays because it’s something to which they’re accustomed.

Taking the time

Cathy Benvenutti is human resources director at Garden Park Hospital in Gulfport where the 455 employees are encouraged to take vacation time and not to work overtime.

“We definitely don’t encourage overtime, and any that is worked must be authorized by the employee’s supervisor,” she said. “I explain that to new hires in orientation. I also encourage them to take their mealtime. Even if they don’t eat, they need that time to rest and gather their wits.”

Accrued vacation time can be taken any way employees want to take it and she says the hospital doesn’t have too many who don’t.

Regarding work stress and overload, Benvenutti said, “We try to be very flexible and offer solutions for any problems our employees have. I advise employees to have a good relationship with their employer and to stay in constant contact with their supervisor.”

She believes the best way to have that good relationship is by having a strong line of communication with supervisors and co-workers. “The majority of our employees have children and must find a way to strike a balance with work and family,” she said. “We want the best mental, emotional and physical health for our employees so they can fulfill their job duties to the best of their abilities.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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