The Downsides of American Work Culture

Americans are crazy (I can say that proudly, as an American). We have tons of pride in weird things and little to no pride in important things. “Wow, you worked 120 hours this week? You’re a rock star!” compared to “You stay home with the kids? What do you do all day?”.  I struggle so much with this insane American Work Culture.  We are so freaking proud of ourselves for working ourselves to death. Why is that? When did American work culture get so dysfunctional?

What is American Work Culture

I guess we need to define American work culture before I get too harsh about bashing it. In my opinion, Americans are in love with work. We don’t work to live – we live to work. We boast about our crazy hours, define ourselves based on our occupations, and look down upon others who we feel don’t “work as hard”. Isn’t that insane?

American work culture seems to be the result of a just universe world view. Too many American’s get caught up in the idea that the world is fair. If you are a good person and do good things, the world will reward you because that’s only fair. The problem with this idea is that the world is not fair. It doesn’t reward people for being good, and it doesn’t punish people for being bad. It just keeps on turning.

But the idea of the just world is what keeps many Americans trapped in the insidious work culture.  If you truly believe that the world rewards good people and punishes bad people, you will work your ass off to prove that you are good and deserve rewards. Because if something bad happens, like you lose your job and can’t pay your bills, you must be bad. Nobody wants to believe that they are bad, so they keep struggling, keep giving more and more, and keep accepting that they don’t have much to show for it. The worst thing about this is that they’ve bought into this culture so much that they refuse to vote for policies that would provide real positive changes in their daily lives. Bad people don’t deserve help.

The Downsides of American Work Culture

In case you haven’t noticed, this obsession with work comes at a tremendous cost to most Americans. We are overworked, underpaid, and stressed out with no free time. And we eat this life up like it’s the best thing ever!


A huge downside of American work culture is that it stresses us all out. Americans are riddled with stress related illnesses (that we don’t have the proper healthcare to treat correctly, but that’s a different story!). Anxiety, depression, high blood pressure, and heart disease run rampant in our society. To be fair, I’ve done absolutely no research to try to determine if this is caused (even partially) by our obsession with work, but it seems highly suspect to me.  

Not only is working long hours stressful, but being trapped in a job is stressful as well. You could argue that people “trapped in jobs” are lucky to even have jobs – and while it’s true that it’s great that they can support themselves, its also true that nobody should be stuck in an unhealthy work environment just so that they can survive. In the US, it’s all about the company, and workers are treated like replaceable cogs. Who cares if one breaks down and can no longer function? They will just get a new one.

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Lack of Time

Speaking of stress, another reason for it is that we are working so much that we don’t have the time to do anything to relieve it. Exercise has been proven to help reduce stress levels, but who has time for that when you are working 80 hours per week just to keep the bills paid? We also eat fast, unhealthy foods, because who has time to cook healthy meals?

This lack of time also leaks over into every other aspect of our lives, and leads to a lack of a social life and lack of ambition. The common rejoinder to this stuff is to just work harder, increase your skills, side hustle, and do all these things so that you can better yourself. But those helpful pieces of advice don’t consider the fact that there is not enough time in the day to do those things when you are engrossed in the culture of work until you drop.

Should people be forced to sacrifice the paltry hour or two they get at home each night to side hustles just to get by? Some people work so much that they are too tired to work on side projects when they get home, and some just want to spend the tiny bit of free time they do have with their loved ones. Why are these things frowned upon? Our lives shouldn’t be about working so much that we have no time to enjoy anything. Life is for living!

Why is Our Work Culture so Horrible?

I know it sounds like I’m bashing Americans here, but I’m really not. I don’t think most people actually want our work culture to be this way. It’s turned into this mess because so many  Americans don’t have any other options . It’s either give into this abusive work culture or go hungry; slave away to a company or be homeless. What kind of choice is that? Of course we are going to choose to get in line so we can survive. What other options do we have?

I mean sure, we can try to better ourselves (but that’s difficult given the time constraints on our daily lives), and we can vote to change the system, but at the end of the day we have to do what we have to do to get by. And for millions of us, that means embracing the American work culture, even as we work from within to try to change it.

Work Cultures in Other Countries

You could say that these things have nothing to do with American work culture, that it’s just a part of life that you have to spend all of your free time working just to survive. But, we can look to our friends in Europe to see that just isn’t the case. Many European countries have policies that promote work-life balance and the happiness of their citizens over profits. It can be done.

It can go the other way as well. Japan has an even more drastic work culture than the US. Workers there also pride themselves on their insanely long hours and are expected to spend their “free time” socializing for the company. The Japanese work so much that it’s killing them, and they’ve even come up with a term for it: Karoshi. It literally means death by overwork.

The Upsides

Are there any upsides to American Work Culture? The only thing I can think of is the chance (or myth, as I like to call it) of making it big. The American Dream, as they call it. The opportunity to work so hard that you will eventually be well off enough to not have to ever work again. This myth keeps us engrossed in our work culture. It keeps the peasants on the bottom fighting for scraps and promoting a flawed system on the off chance that they too might make it to the top one day.

Honestly though, I really can’t see any upsides to it. I’d rather we have policies in place that take care of our citizens first, and give everyone the opportunity to pursue the lives that they are passionate about. What do you think? I’d love to hear your opinion!

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Author: melanie

7 thoughts on “The Downsides of American Work Culture

  1. I like this, mainly because when you look at how people thought our future would be, many thought it involved shorter work-weeks and less hours. Instead, we’ve continue to work more, take less time off, and be more stressed. But we can continue to try and change it one day at a time by teaching others.

    1. I agree! This is why I love UBI so much…with all the advances in technology, we shouldn’t be working longer hours than we used to. It’s ridiculous. UBI would help solve that problem.

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