Work-family life seems busier than ever. Everyone I know has a story about taking over the jobs of three people or answering work emails around the clock.
One organization that tracks Americans’ working hours, the Economic Policy Institute, says that the majority of workers increased their work hours substantially between 1979 and 2007. It’s reasonable to think that the trend toward longer work hours has only increased since then, as employers hold off hiring during this prolonged recession.
All this work can take a toll on family life. We should be asking, what portion of time should paid work justly demand, and what portion is necessary for family and community well-being?
Recent studies have made connections between family-work conflict and depression, heavy alcohol consumption, poor physical health and high blood pressure.
Also, experts say that kids do better emotionally when their parents are involved in their day-to-day lives. Yet, parents are often so worn down by their multiple demands that they have nothing left for the effective nurture, structure and discipline that children need.
I think we need to update societal supports for families. Meaning, school days and years that more closely match parents’ work hours, as New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has recently suggested. We should also rewrite public policies, as New Jersey and California have done, to increase paid family leave. Too often, that’s a perk for only the most highly paid and highly educated. New York City is passing a law that companies with more than 15 employees must offer paid sick time.
After all, if families aren’t healthy, we can’t expect to have a healthy nation.
For more on this topic, check out this op-ed column from Newsday.