As I begin to plan for a five-week unpaid leave from the rat race, I feel particularly sensitive to messages, both implicit and explicit, that communicate that overworking is a culturally accepted practice.
In the last few days, I have begun to notice an ad campaign by Dunkin' Donuts (I refuse to link to their website, just to spite them) that truly speaks to what drives me to take a break from work altogether. This ubiquitous American purveyor of non-organic, non-free-trade coffee and fatty, sugary treats is now propagating billboards which promote a lifestyle unfriendly to slowness and thoughtfulness. "Eat on the Run!" screams one billboard, while another colorfully suggests that I "Work Through Lunch!". What have we come to? How did I become another victim of American workforce culture?
A recent study in the UK cites data showing that fewer and fewer Brits stop working in order to eat the midday meal. An article on Monster.com urges workers to take lunch breaks, and article after article cites the shrinking lunch hour and lengthening workday. In my own office, the majority of us eat lunch at our desks as we finish notes, check emails, and answer calls. And when five o'clock rolls around, so many of us seem to simply keep working since there seems to be no end to the work we need to do. No wonder we're all exhausted. The Japanese even have a word for death from overwork: Karoshi. At least it's not a purely American phenomenon.
So, those billboards that cajole us to work through lunch and eat on the run? Why not boycott Dunkin' Donuts, instead?