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Benefits Americans Don't Get
It is time to stop living in a bubble and understand that all other industrialized nations take the physical and mental health of their citizens seriously. Maximum productivity does not require a 60 hour work week. How does the United States compare to other countries?
Below are minimum current standards in other industrialized countries, and you may be surprised to learn that Ethiopia, Afghanistan and Somalia give several weeks of paid leave to new parents covering their salary at 90 to 100 percent.
- Americans work longer than 40 hours a week. 35 hours is the average in industrialized countries.
- Businesses offer paid parental leave of 20 weeks in Europe.
- Mandated vacations no less than 5 weeks a year in many countries.
- Paid parental leave of several weeks to both parents.
- Mandated paid sick leave. No questions asked and job retention.
- Full-time pay for unemployed workers.
A new report from the International Labor Organization (ILO) states that Americans work 499 more hours per year than their French counterparts. The level of stress that Americans suffer from is unheard of in European countries and the level of satisfaction with life in Europe is unknown to most Americans.
Since we work longer hours, have little to no vacation and much less time to pursue hobbies, family and social activities, it stands to reason that we are an exhausted nation, we are less energetic and are always tired at work. Based on our current working conditions, reports show that most Americans are doing the job of two or more people. Fear of losing our jobs keeps us accepting more responsibility, taking less vacation time and feeling like indentured labor.
While we may not be able to control the current business climate, there are things we can do to be less tired at work and get energy boosts to stay alert and productive.
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- Prepare the night before by going to sleep at a set routine that incorporates 8 hours of sleep. More sleep reduces stress and increases serotonin levels which increase concentration and reduces depression.
- Each meal should provide essential nutrition in the form of minerals and vitamins that incorporates fruits, vegetables and nuts to protect internal organs and maintain high energy levels.
- Light exercise in the form of a walk with family, friends or a pet will help change your routine and alter your mood. People in good moods release dopamine, one of the brain chemicals that makes people feel good about themselves and the world. Do whatever you can at home to enjoy the time you have with your loved ones; tell jokes, play around or watch comedy together.
- Be selfish. Let others serve you and pamper you. Schedule a full body massage and facial. Go out to a good restaurant with tablecloths and no children, even if it is just for lunch once a month.
- Take charge of your life. People who don't feel in control of their lives are more prone to depression and feeling lethargic.
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Control Your Work Day
Boundaries are necessary in every aspect of our lives and work is no exception. Unrealistic expectations for workers in the United States will continue to prevail until we all reach the breaking point. Avoid reaching the end of the proverbial rope and take charge of the work day to reduce stress and increase your energy levels.
- Organize - Organize the work load by priority and assign a time limit to each task. Delegate when possible.
- Say no! - If you work at a manufacturing plant, decline over-time whenever possible and coordinate that day with your days off to maximize personal leisure time. Decline additional work at the office if your plate is full.
- Eat snacks - Snacks rich in vitamin B reduce stress. Skip sugar and carbohydrates that deplete you of energy. Lack of vitamin B will affect insulin levels which can cause depression and lack of concentration. Take the time to replenish every two hours.
- Foods to eat: Cashews, sunflower seeds, lentils, chick peas, whole-wheat breads, peanuts, bell peppers, spinach and green peas because they are rich in B vitamins and help increase energy levels.
- Take breaks - Blue and white-collar workers need to drink plenty of water to hydrate and forgo coffee and sugary drinks. Drink tea rich in antioxidants instead.
- Move around the work place to exercise other muscles and increase blood flow. If your job requires you to be hunched over, sedentary or in a standing position for prolonged periods of time, exercise other muscles by doing squats and gentle stretching. Take the stairs.
- Take a nap: Studies have shown that a 20 minute nap can help reduce stress and increase alertness. Go into an empty office and take a 20 minute break with eyes closed. Do not think. Do not worry. Do nothing. Take a nap in your vehicle if possible or find a quiet place away from people and machine noise to close your eyes and rest. You are entitled to work breaks and how you use them is up to you.
- Exercise to get an energy boost. A 10 minute brisk walk outside of the building before eating will help to energize you and continue to burn calories even after eating.
- Wear the right shoes - When your feet hurt, everything hurts. Get shoes that fit well and support your weight and your arches. When feet hurt, people avoid walking instinctively.
Note: Carbohydrates will make you tired at work and the end result will be weight gain which only serves to make you more lethargic and depressed.
Take a vacation. As stated earlier, vacations are not in the cards for most working Americans but you need to take a vacation because your entire life should not be spent at work or worrying about work. Consider taking two or three days in conjunction with a weekend to make the most of your time off if a real one-month vacation is not possible.
- Leave phones and computers behind.
- Maximize the time you have by doing fun activities that make you smile, laugh and relax your mind and body.
- Be a tourist in your home town and relax.
- Reconnect with your loved ones in a healthy way. No arguments, no long-overdue serious conversations, no recriminations. Focus on the things you like about each other and let the rest of the world take care of itself. It will all still be there when you come back.
Bonus: Coming back refreshed from nurturing your mind and body will make you feel less tired at work and have a more positive outlook. Strive for a healthy balance between work and personal life because your mental and physical health are worth it.
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The Times: Too Tired To Work? Then Have A Snooze; Charles Bremmer; January 31, 2007
CBS News: Scientist: Controllers Need Naps On The Job: April 15, 2011
CNN: Why Is America The No-Vacation Nation?; A. Pawlowski; May 23, 2011