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Workaholic Americans: The Trend of Being Overworked and Underpaid

Updated on May 24, 2015

Americans are Working Longer Hours and Getting Less Pay


Changes in the Workplace

Seems like we’re overworked, underpaid and severely under-appreciated at our jobs nowadays, and unfortunately the trend only appears to be increasing. What happened to those jobs that were around a few decades ago, filled with such amenities like 100% matching 401k’s, employee bonuses, low-cost health insurance, actual retirement benefits and of course the biggie- scheduled and frequent pay raises. And not to mention the laid-back environment of the workplace- sure, there were busy days, but the busy I'm referring to did not equal stress in the proportion it's at today. You came to work, did your job, and managers didn't expect you to perform the task of three people. At the end of the day, you went home and didn't worry about "work stuff". Jobs were a dime a dozen for a young adult like me and managers knew they had to keep their most cherished employees by offering great benefits to compensate for the pay that didn't stretch from payday to payday. How was it that employers were so intuitive back then? And now it's seems as if they've lost their scruples- they could give a crap less because a high turnover means nothing to them- it's all about the bottom line and the bonuses to be had for all the money they're saving. Of course, had it not been for me entering the workforce some 20+ years ago, I would have no way of identifying with, much less understanding the concept of what it actually means to have a "great job with excellent benefits" in a long-gone past where you worked the job of ONE person and most likely enjoyed earning wages.

Effects of this phenomenon can be debilitating
Effects of this phenomenon can be debilitating | Source

Effects of Today's Workforce

I like the term "work-more economy" (coined by Workforce magazine), which describes the current situation of individuals taking on a large proportion of additional responsibilities at work, sometimes carrying a double or even triple workload, resulting in working much longer hours and bringing home much less pay. Some of the negative hallmarks of today's workforce include:

  • Burn-out
  • Low employee morale
  • Health problems
  • Depression
  • Lack of sufficient sleep
  • Poor nutrition
  • Family and marital problems
  • Suffering of emotional health

Moreover, these effects result in increased health-care costs (more visits to the doctor for new illnesses or health problems), decreased productivity (not working as efficiently as needed), decreased performance (not working up to par, or putting in your best effort), the compromising of workplace safety (fatigue and/or sickness makes one more prone to accidents) and absenteeism (taking the day off to get some much needed rest- this one can encompass other effects as well). What with all these possible ramifications, it makes one wonder what the future really holds for the employment sector as a whole. And how could this affect us across all institutions in society?

Something Positive is Needed...

In my personal experience, burn-out is probably the worst consequence of working all those long hours (this may have something to do with my profession). More often than not, there are days I honestly put forth my best efforts and it feels like it's never enough- either I'm doing something wrong, or didn't get it finished fast enough, or just whatever it may be that day. Continuous discouragement is a hard pill to swallow and especially when you know you're better than that, and after a while you start believing it. What's with all the negativity and why does it need to be this way? Even more discouraging is the absence of "job perks" that workplaces could offer to give employees something to look forward to, something in return for their hard work and dedication (i.e., benefits). For example, I've not had a raise since I was hired five years ago thanks to a salary freeze, that of which makes absolutely no sense because the company I work for continues to see a huge increase in their bottom line profits every year. But alas, it's the sad realization for most workers across the United States today. And then you hear, "you're lucky you have a job" and the ever-popular, "think of it as job security". Those seem to be standard phrases employers make when they don't know what else to say- those little patronizing words that couldn't make you feel any worse about your predicament, nor do they help the situation. Not to mention the disparity between the different levels of management down to employees- time was before, when the higher-ups were typically the only ones to pull all those long hours, but that certainly isn't the case anymore.

Greed = The Root of All Evil

Overworked and Underpaid to Stuff the Pockets of a Few...
Overworked and Underpaid to Stuff the Pockets of a Few... | Source

Structure is Needed...

Breakdown in the structure of the workplace is another issue that seems to be on the rise. Some companies, in their efforts to maximize their profits forego appropriate training measures and in particular, don't take the time to develop systems in place or operating procedures for when the job doesn't run so smoothly. Employees are left with total confusion, miscommunication and being 'spread too thin', many times resulting in corrective action. The ironic thing here is that because the company or business didn't operate in a manner to ensure all the above things are provided, corrective actions are often times the indirect fault of the company or business. Employers are no longer saying "good job" and "thanks for all your help", and workers must now function like robots, remembering all the details and getting the tasks completed, all the while under tremendous amounts of stress and time constraints.

What I do find interesting is the number of people turning to home-based businesses on the web- but that's a whole other subject. Could that trend possibly have a connection with people like me that show up at a brick and mortar business each day, experiencing the ever-monotonous mantra of being overworked and underpaid and wanting an end to that type of life, yearning for something much more satisfying and fulfilling? People who are tired of working their lives away, never getting ahead (or even caught up for that matter) and doing it all for what? Seems like a wonderful idea, but it's also quite a risk if you ask me. Speaking from experience, I've yet to find something that's substantial enough to even do part-time, let alone full-time. After all, the whole idea is to get away from being "overworked and underpaid", right? Well, I suppose with enough initiative, dedication and money, setting up shop online is possible but it's a hard and competitive world out there. The reality for many, if not most people, is to stick with what they know will definitely pay the bills and that is working outside the home.

Is There a Solution?

So the real question is, how can we overcome this problem of being overworked and underpaid? Unions serve their purpose well enough, but many workers are salaried employees with no one to back them up. Increased education is one possible way; turning to the internet for self-employment is another. I don't think employers will look to the past for clues because now there's too much money at stake, to stick in the pockets of a few instead of many as fairness no longer seems to be in their vocabulary. And since money = power, the most likely outcome is that employees will continue working longer hours without pay increases, and upper-management will continue earning more money, all the while reaping the benefits of employees' hard work and increased hours to boot. With that being said, I can only predict a grim and even more less satisfying future for workers. At the same time, I also fear for the future of corporate America, fearing they'll simply fall under because of their greed and unfairness toward the ones that actually made them so rich.


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    • Ariesgirls profile image

      Heidi Johnson 2 years ago from Vinton, Ohio

      Thank you HSchneider! I forgot about the 2008 crisis (how could I forget though- I got one of those raw mortgage deals). And I've heard about Walmart raising their wages, which is great for them and I hope you're right about a positive trend. But I'm still amazed at my company, and nothing surprises me anymore. I went to college for a reason- so I could have a nice, comfortable job and not have to provide direct services myself! But on the other hand, I suppose managers are expected to fill in if needed. Thanks for reading:)

    • profile image

      Howard Schneider 2 years ago from Parsippany, New Jersey

      Excellent Hub, Heidi. I don't know what the solution is but the problem is growing especially after the financial crisis of 2008. Some organizations are beginning to learn to treat their workers better. WalMart, one of the most notorious offenders, is raising their minimum wage to $10.00 and expanding their other benefit programs. Time will tell if these changes are a true trend.

    • Ariesgirls profile image

      Heidi Johnson 2 years ago from Vinton, Ohio

      I know! I guess I was getting out some frustration with this piece in regards to where I work, but it's happening everywhere. I've also considered getting a part-time evening job but realize I'm not able (I have 2 tween daughters, one in sports) and besides, I'm basically on call 24 hours a day with work. It is scary to think anything could happen between now and then- I hope your plan works out for the best:) Thank you for commenting!

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 2 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      There are definitely no easy answers! At the point I am in my life, I, too, am feeling the crunch. My husband and I would like to retire, and are eligible, but the retirement income won't pay off the mortgage and the other loans we still are paying on. We keep going forward hoping we can put some extra into these things before we have to retire because we can't work any more!