Work-Life Balance: A Cultural and Generational Divide

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Over spring break I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Barcelona with 11 of my peers. Being a study abroad program, play became work. While the overwhelming purpose of the program was to challenge us to open our minds to new and different experiences and way of life, it was to also introduce us to our new bosses for the semester, as this OHIO-led course is also an internship. My from my perspective, based on information I had gathered and from my own personal expectations, I assumed most of our days would be spent in a class room or working on our assigned projects; so when I received our itinerary you could say I was a bit taken back. Only eight hours were to be spent with our clients? Where was the time set off of to work? Only two classes, only one of which was on cross-cultural communications in business? While this excited me, as who really wants to spend their senior-spring break working, I was also perplexed. Why was there such a focus on experiencing Barcelona over the work we were being assigned? Looking back, I can admit that I had a very American way of viewing this situation.

Before I divulge further into why I say this is a very “American way” of seeing things, I want to address a concern I’ve recently run into. As most seniors experience, I have become quite burnt out. I am on the executive board for three student organizations, hold a job, am in a relationship, and am naturally a very social person, so a huge part of my mental stability is making time with my friends. Juggling all of these things is no leisure stroll, especially when my value of hard work and success clashes with my value of relationship building and maintaining. It wasn’t until a particularly garbage-fire of a semester that it finally hit me: why have I over-involved myself? Why was I on exec board for three student organizations on top of having an internship? And why do I feel as if that’s still not enough, like I should have done more with my time? It wasn’t until I sat through a cross-cultural communications class in another country that I finally understood why.

 
In Spain, having a healthy balance of work and life, with a greater importance placed on
relationships and time to yourself, is the norm. After a discussion on American stereotypes and values, it became clear that in America, work is your life. Even as a college student I not only see this, I feel this. Why else would I feel that the 50-60 hours a week I spend working on student org, school, and job stuff isn’t enough? Why is it that even though I’m more qualified than many current entry-level employees, I struggle to hear back from jobs, and I’m questioned on why I didn’t do this-or-that? In America, working overtime or on the weekends is expected, but in Spain, that is a sincere cause of concern, and out of the normal. There, you work to live, here, you live to work.

So why is this the norm? Why must college students with my career path sacrifice their hobbies and relationships in order to succeed? Something seems off with our value-system. Not only are we sacrificing who we are for careers, but our mental health and stability as well. I’ve seen strong, independent, flourishing friends of mine break down in tears, and question their selfworth over grades, failure to obtain executive positions, or even after making a small, easily fixed mistake. College students these days are overworked because being overworked is not only the new normal, but a societal expectation.

The thing is, I’m not the only one who has questioned this. I’ve noticed it particularly among my friends who are graduating and recent grads. All of us question why we gave up so much of ourselves for an intense amount of work that in the end, did not completely fulfill us. In fact, the vast majority of the things that have filled my life with incredible amounts of joy have not been work. While I value my time spent in my student organizations, and the families I now have in each of them, nothing will compare to the moment I looked across the Grand Canyon, or when I brought my dog home, or when I finished my first summer away from home in Washington D.C. So why do we hear horror stories of people missing the birth of their child because of work? Or
of companies not allowing employees to get work off for funerals or for birthdays of loved ones? Why do Americans receive barely two weeks of vacation days at jobs they’ve been at for five years, while many European countries encourage a month long Holiday in the summer and winter? Something seems off, and our generation is finally beginning to sense it.

I hope that I am not desensitized to this new normal of my life being work. I hope that we begin to see a shift in American values, and like many other things in our country, I think our generation is going to be the ones to initiate that change.

 

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Sara Defibaugh is a senior journalism-strategic communication and creative writing major. She is also our VP of Finance. Give her a follow on Twitter @saradefibaugh.

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