Back to the salt mines

In a recent Motion Monitor eNewsletter, we posed a question about whether or not we Americans work too much. Here's what some of our readers had to say.

Yes, we do work too much, especially in electronics where a salary accompanies an expectation of 45-60 or more hours per week. I can usually get my work done in a 35-40 hour week by actually working, while others may take 50 hours to do the same amount due to excessive web surfing and coffee refills. So when review time comes around I get chastised for only working 40-42 hour weeks, while my less efficient counterpart gets praised for dedication to the job. Guess who gets the job done and who gets the praise and raise?

I finally quit the grind and became self-employed, which has worked well since I will retire in a few years. Building custom computers for the locals is not as challenging as a good military design project (analog for me), but at least no one else gets the raise for the work I did. Corporate America thinks they own their employees and the salaried workers have bought into it, so there we are. I make less money now, but don't have to kiss up to a boss or work on “waste of time” projects for marketing, which translates to more overall satisfaction.
Bill Baka
Marysville, Calif.

I think part of our workaholic nature here is from fear. There is no protection for workers like there is in Europe and our employers exploit this. Many of us feel that if we don't put in a lot of uncompensated overtime, we will be passed over for promotions, lose out on bonuses, and possibly even be replaced. Recent offshoring has made it seem like a game of musical chairs. Management pulls chairs out from under several people per year and we must step lively or lose our seat. Please don't identify me too much; I still want to have a seat next year.
Name withheld by request

My daughter recently had a child and her employer was pretty good to her. She hadn't worked enough to qualify for full FMLA benefits, but the company still gave her three weeks of paid leave and she can apply for more unpaid time off later this year. It was hard to see her go back to work so soon. I've heard about maternity leaves in places like Germany and Scandinavia being as long as three years, and much better family policies than what this country only pays lip service to.

Since they have us all in the same bucket, it seems difficult to make any change happen here. Out of necessity, many companies are turning to “flexible work arrangements,” but overall we still end up working more than we should. Having to wait 20 years to get four weeks of vacation seems wrong as well. I saw an article in the recent Portland Monthly magazine detailing the 10 best companies to work for, and a few have instituted progressive “Euro-style” policies, such as everyone getting four or five weeks of vacation starting from year one. We are all human, so why should someone working for a company for one year be given two weeks off, while someone there for 20 years gets four or five weeks? How are their needs different? Thanks for introducing the topic.
Jim Kysela
Portland, Oreg.

In reading the author's statement about working overseas, I found it ironic to be compared to Europe. We are not losing our jobs to companies in Europe; we're losing our jobs to the Asian countries, i.e. China. I would love to have the Europeans' relaxed atmosphere about their jobs and time off, but they have already lost their manufacturing base, which we in America are trying to hold onto and should hold onto.

If you want to make a comparison to the work environment and where America is going, make a trip to China. See how they work their people (one step up from slavery), look at the working environment they subject their people to, and then make a comparison. Urge our American retailers to stop buying products from countries that pollute their/our environment and treat their workers like they do. Then when we have a stable manufacturing base in this country again, maybe we can all relax and enjoy our time off not having to worry about our jobs being lost.
Roger Westfall
Los Angeles

I agree that Americans work too many hours. I'm 53 years old, my children are grown, the house is paid for, and yet what drives me to put in 50 to 55 hours per week? I claim to be a Republican, but I'll vote for anyone who will start legislation to shorten the American workweek to 40 hours. I think we've been brainwashed into believing if we work less hours, we are lazy. It's high time for someone to start a weekly tip sheet with suggestions on what we work-brained Americans could enjoy doing after we have put in our 40.
Dewey McCoy

Engineering ethics

Holding engineers responsible for the use of their ideas is like holding General Motors responsible for pedestrians being hit by cars. Engineers have no control over how their ideas are exploited by management, government, or the end user. You don't have to be an engineer to have an idea, good or bad.
Jim Pickens
Hanford Nuclear Reservation
Richland, Wash.

Current events call for competent captain

In your September editorial “Trouble in Paradise,” your observations are quite correct, but I don't believe there is a solution. Ultimately the Amish and their ways will have to go like the Indians did earlier. Making Holmes County (Ohio) a protected area will make it look like a zoo. Changing U.S. trade laws will make the U.S. look like a zoo. Progress, can't be stopped. We might be able to retard it and give the Amish a chance to catch up. I'm all for that, but the rest of the world will overrun us in the end, not necessarily by force, but by being alive. It would be nice to have a good captain who could help us navigate the white water. We can't reverse or stop the current, but at least our ride might be more dignified.
Cord Ohlenbusch
Andover, Mass.