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This Labor Day, Make a Toast -- to Yourself

From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 31, 2001 -- It's Labor Day weekend -- time to kick back and enjoy! That is, if you can turn off the cell phone, pager, and the laptop long enough to enjoy the barbecues, weather, and department store sales.

And according to results of several polls culled by the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., most of us can -- and will -- do just that. Most of us are satisfied with our work and our play, says Karlyn H. Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.

Does this mean the rat race is over and the time crunch has been decompressed?

Not for everyone, she says, but a substantial 80% of people in a 2000 survey said their bosses are very or somewhat accommodating about their need to balance work and family, and a 1999 poll found that nine of 10 workers were satisfied with the flexibility of their hours.

Bowman discussed people's attitudes about work and leisure at a recent press briefing. "All the polls show stability and job satisfaction over time," she says. "When asked, 'would you take the same job again without hesitation?' 64% said yes in 1977 and 68% said yes in 1997. That's remarkable stability over a 20-year period."

Job dissatisfaction is typically more about a person's stage of life than the job per se, Bowman says.

"Younger workers tend to be dissatisfied because they are on the low-end of the totem pole in terms of earning and dual earners with young families are satisfied with their jobs, but not their amount of leisure time," she says.

Recent surveys suggest that when people are asked if they would rather have more time or more money, they say more money, but when choices are quantified -- a week's vacation or a week's salary -- they often opt for leisure, Bowman says.

"When vacation started to become available to the American middle class after the Civil War, most people used them for work of a different kind such as religious or charitable endeavors, but today we are appreciating leisure for itself," she says.

In fact, 40% of the people polled said that leisure is what it's all about -- and the purpose of work is to make it possible to have leisure time to enjoy life, up from 36% in prior years.

Still, not everyone is content. Some people may not feel that they have enough leisure time -- but that could be a function of their choices, says New York City psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Kerry Sulkowicz, MD, who is also the president of The Boswell Group LLC, a management-consulting firm in New York City.

Despite what the polls may say, Sulkowicz says, "People do labor a lot on holiday weekends, and there seems to be an increasing trend toward that. Our cultural attitudes toward work seem to be changing, and there is less emphasis on valuing time with family or at home relaxing and greater value on working to exhaustion. People seem to take a perverse pleasure in not taking vacation."

More and more, he tells WebMD, people are taking work home and finding it more difficult to justify taking a break. "It's bad because people need time away from work not just to recharge their batteries so they can work better, but because there is more to life than work."

His Labor Day prescription for workaholics?

"Turn off the cell phone and other forms of electronic communication and enjoy golf and smell the roses when walking between shots," he says, before it's too late.

"I see many people in my practice who have gone pretty far professionally and have terrible regrets about missing out on their children's childhood or whatever things might be sources of pleasure outside of work," Sulkowicz says. "You just can't get that back."