In the US, the work hard, play hard motto is ubiquitous, especially in corporations. I think I first encountered it in college around 2002, or at least that’s the first time it stayed with me. Even back then I thought there was something deeply disturbing about this concept, something wrong with the notion that your whole life has to be hard. Organizations claim that this phrase encourages work-life balance, but let’s be honest: what it really communicates is the idea of doing everything at full blast.
I’m sure the form it takes differs, but in my experience it means employees playing (partying) together: binge drinking, all-night parties, crazy behavior that typically would not be accepted at work but is during the party period, and then getting up at 7am on a Saturday morning and working all day. I question: When did you sleep? Plus, if you are partying with your coworkers, is this really time away from work, or work-sponsored partying?
Wikipedia claims: “This work-play balance is similar to the concept of work-life balance.”
However, if all parts of your life are hard, where’s the balance? The concept of “life is hard” is everywhere, but I still strongly associate it with the US. There, it has taken the form of “Life is hard: work all the time,” but no one talks about how your productively plummets when you live such a lifestyle, not to mention what happens to your stress levels.
The more time I spend in Europe, the greater the rift that grows between me and the US culture of working non-stop and then playing hard. Such a lifestyle would never have been my choice, though what interests me is why people still think it’s not only normal, but also the preferred way to live.
We know Americans view Europeans as lazy: shops are closed on Sunday, everyone gets at least 6 weeks of vacation every year, and you can’t get anything done in August. Compare this to the 24 hour superstores and 2 weeks of vacation and it doesn’t make sense that US productivity per employee per hour is lower than the Netherlands and some other European countries. I am not an economist, but it seems like if you compare productivity per hour worked, a number of European countries come out better than the US:
So why continue to promote this destructive culture? By destructive I mean destructive of your health, both physical and mental, and destructive of your relationships outside of work.
Fortunately, not all companies are continuing to promote it. After analyzing their alcohol-related incidents at work, the U.S. Air Force tried to change their motto from work hard, play hard (which in practice had become work hard, play recklessly) to work hard, play smart.
How about work hard, then relax? Spend some time with your family? Take the weekends off to recharge? Employees should be able to decide for themselves how they spend their free time.