In his book The Epic America, written in 1931, James Truslow Adams defined the American Dream as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” (Columbia University Libraries Archival Collections). In other words, if you come to America and work hard, you have the same opportunity to prosper as everyone else, regardless of your race, social status, birthplace, or gender.
The American Dream Is Broken
For many workers today, however, the American Dream seems out of reach — and has been for quite some time. Granted, this is the land of opportunity and people are given the right to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” but they’re also often overworked, stressed out, and spread too thin.
We take on more work, put in more hours, and overextend ourselves in the workplace so that we can, hopefully, get that much-needed promotion and raise that will get us one step closer to the picture-perfect life we envision in our heads. Our pursuit of happiness through success is actually the very thing that’s is chipping away at our contentment … and well-being.
Fixing the American Workplace
Although there isn’t necessarily a quick fix for the American workplace crisis, creating the meaningful changes professionals so desperately need is easier said than done. For instance, while workplace wellness programs have been proven to help professionals lessen and better manage their stress levels at work, “these programs do little to target the root causes of burnout and disengagement,” writes Carolyn Gregoire at The Huffington Post.
“Most of the intervention research that has been funded by the federal government and others is focusing on changing the individual,” says Phyllis Moen, a University of Minnesota sociologist who studies careers, families, and well-being. “What we’re trying to do is change the conditions of work that are creating the stress, so that we can reduce the stress.” In other words, we need to look inward and address the root of the cause: “long hours, unrealistic demands and deadlines, and work-life conflict.”
Or, as Peter Fleming says in his article for The Guardian, “Confronting work-mania as an individual is pointless. We need to come together as a group to voice these concerns if progressive policy and legislation are to be forged. Otherwise little will change.”
Fleming suggests that a solution to healthier work-life balance may be to join a union or create your own.
There are certainly multiple benefits to belonging to a union. According to research from the Economic Policy Institute, union members’ wages are 20 percent higher than non-union members’. Pay is higher even for non-union workers in the same industry. Organized workers also have better health and retirement benefits than their non-union peers.
What if your workplace doesn’t have a union? You might want to work with your colleagues to start your own. You have the right to unionize. If that’s something that appeals, this primer from the AFL-CIO is a good place to start.
Tell Us What You Think
Are you part of union? If so, do you feel as though you have a healthy work-life balance? Share your thoughts with our community on Twitter and let us know what you like and dislike about being a union member.