Give Us a Break

Starved for time off, American workers keep getting sicker, sadder, and less productive


| January-February 2009



This article is one of several on reclaiming rest in all aspects of our lives. For more, read  Get Radical. Get Some Rest. ,  Breaking It to Your Boss ,  Want to Get Away, Stay Home ,  Sleep Tips: Age Matters , and  The No Wake Zone .

Jack Torrance, Jack Nicholson’s character in the 1980 film The Shining, should get credit for popularizing (and making terrifying) a proverb that dates back to the 1600s: “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.”

Nicholson’s character sure looked like he could have used a vacation before his psyche disintegrated and he went on a murderous rampage.

In the real world, the danger isn’t that we’ll start obsessively typing proverbs at the Overlook Hotel before taking an ax to the door, but that our country’s hardworking denizens will keep getting sicker, sadder, and less productive.

Medical and poll-based evidence indicates that we seriously need relief. Work-related stress can lead to heart attacks, obesity, anxiety, and depression. A 2004 World Health Organization and Harvard Medical School study put the United States at the top of the list of depressed countries, while the Gallup-Healthways Daily Happiness-Stress Index finds that the only consistent upswing in mood occurs when Americans get some time off on the weekends or holidays.

As John de Graaf, executive director of the Seattle-based advocacy group Take Back Your Time, puts it, Americans are “time-starved and vacation-starved.”