John deGraaf is President of Take Back Your Time, a non-profit organization working to improve lives by eliminating the epidemic of overwork in America. In our interview below, John answers my questions about the importance of this new initiative and its relevance to Americans seeking better work/life/family integration.
How did Take Back Your Time come to be?
Take Back Your Time (www.takebackyourtime.org) was formed in 2002 at a meeting of the Simplicity Forum, a group whose members were concerned about the environmental and social impacts of consumerism. We were looking for a way to talk about the issue that wasn’t about guilt and sacrifice. We decided that in fact Americans were making a big sacrifice right now–of precious leisure time–in working so long to produce more and more stuff instead of expanding leisure time activities like vacations, shorter work-weeks, family and sick leave and so forth. We set aside Take Back Your Time as a way to get Americans to think about overwork and time poverty in our nation.
What led you to this cause?
In the 1960’s when I studied sociology, experts were predicting a 20-hour work week by the year 2000 driven by increased technology and productivity. But by the early 1990s, it was clear that most people were actually working more not less. I wanted to understand this so I researched and produced a popular one-hour special for PBS called RUNNING OUT OF TIME. As I worked on it, it became increasingly clear that such long working hours weren’t necessary, they were endangering the environment by overproduction and overconsumption and they were harming Americans’ health, family life and all-around well-being. I felt I had to do something about this because it was a hidden issue that no one seemed to be addressing.
What are you hoping to accomplish?
We want Americans to understand that we don’t have to work ourselves to death to lead reasonably prosperous and happy lives and that in fact, overwork threatens our health and happiness. We think the one way to address this that is being ignored is by increasing vacation time in America so that people really have enough time to recover from work stress and burnout. So we have partnered with Diamond Resorts International to promote vacation time. Our upcoming summit is a start in that direction.
Why is this issue important?
More and more people and more and more media outlets understand that Americans don’t vacation like people in other countries. It’s part of why we are the least healthy people in the rich world, despite spending the most on health care. But understanding isn’t enough. We need activism, both inside business and outside, to persuade employers to grant adequate vacation time and to truly encourage workers to take it. We are also the only rich nation with no law mandating any paid vacation time at all, so we have to make extra efforts to assure that vacation time is granted and promoted voluntarily. Enlightened employers know this, but many still need convincing.
How can Take Back Your Time benefit families striving for healthy work/life integration?
We hope they will think carefully about the time pressures in their lives and how they might alleviate them, including being sure they take their vacations or request them as assertively as they can if they don’t have them. They can find resources on our website and we will be including new ones nearly every day. We will also be working with other activists who are seeking legislation to guarantee paid sick days, family leave and vacation time. We hope families will understand that it is not good to ruin one’s health by overwork and that as a society we need to put a higher value on leisure time. We hope they will join us and let us know what time issues are important to them and how they think we can be most successful in making change.
What can people do to support this idea and Take Back Your Time?
Be sure to let your employer, your family and your friends know that time is as important to you, if not more so, as money, that you care about vacation time and that you will be a better, healthier worker if you get sufficient time off. Use information from our website to help make the case that more vacation is a win-win-win proposition for the employee, the employer and our society as a whole. Especially point out the health benefits and the enormous costs of work stress and burnout. And if you can, help us by donating, by starting a Take Back Your Time group in your community, and by celebrating Take Back Your Time Day on October 24 and Vacation Commitment Day on March 31. If you live in the NYC area, register for our free National Vacation Summit coming on June 15th: https://www.takebackyourtime.org/press-events/vacation-commitment-summit/
For more information visit, www.takebackyourtime.org.