Alex Hutchins

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Why do Americans hate going to work so much?

I held my first full time job in 1968 (45 years ago) and I am still working and during these years not only have I hated going to work, but I have heard constant complaints from co-workers as well as from friends and neighbors who worked at a variety of other places how bad they hated going to work as well.

While most of their complaints centered around management, there were numerous complaints about co-workers as well as subordinates and customers that laid the foundation for all of them having a miserable time at work.

Studies over the years have revealed that workers feel better about themselves and their job when they are fully engaged and have ownership over what they are doing, oftentimes referred to as empowerment; but, while this may help a little, these workers typically still complain about their job and cannot wait until they can retire.

This retirement desire was first exposed to me by my father who retired at 62 after having worked for the Federal Government for over 40 years. During his career, he never once complained about going to work but towards the last few years of his career, he complained all the time about the politics, the butt kissing, and the looking over one's shoulder that he had to do throughout his career. In short, he admitted that he hated his job, he hated going to work, even though there were things that he enjoyed and that were very rewarding for him.

Sadly, I would estimate using the standard 80/20 rule that 80% of the current workforce hates what they are doing, hates their bosses, hates with whom they have to work, and hates the customers with whom they have to deal.

No wonder our productivity and the quality of our products and services is beginning to deteriorate.

So, if this is largely the responsibility of management, especially upper management what can be done (if it were so desired) to change the environment in which the American Worker has to work?

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    Jul 5 2013: it's not hating to work at all, it's the fact that far to many of our waking hours are needed to earn money to pay for life's necessities. Whether you like your work or not does not play into the question. there are 7 days in a week, 30 in a month, 365 in a year, etc. it saddens me that the majority of my life is spent in the pursuit of a paycheck for my simple needs. not much time left to simply enjoy "life".I get 2 days off a week. #1 is getting caught up with tasks and personal business. #2....... I wake in the morning and get that "butterfly" feeling in my stomach for it is a day that has no "have too's" and the freedom of choice is the best! More days such as this offers a host of gifts such as less stress, time spent with others,quiet time, (for me) gardening, reading a book, paying no attention to time..... Just breathing!
  • Jul 5 2013: I can think of a few potential reasons.

    1. Work is a compromise between what you want to do and what you must do to survive. Compromises create stress.

    2. Work often involves pressuring widely diverse groups into the same living space and constricting them to form a cohesive group that accepts a set of circumstances either necessary to complete the tasks, or necessary to most effectively compete with others trying to do the same task. Constriction, forced cohesion and competition create stress.

    3. Work requires the constant evaluation and comparison of self-worth to organizational worth, as determined by salary, responsibilities, managerial power, and similar benefits. The basis for such evaluations is often a comparison to co-workers, past and present, and the value of contributions made to the work effort. Such contributions and how they should be rewarded is a constant topic of negotiations. This adds stress to the work place.

    4. There are often different rules associated with customers, mangers, subordinates, legal organizations, regulating bodies, owners, politically sensitive sub-groups, political organizations, religious organizations, the media, security, travel, and similar organizations. Rules associated with any one of these areas, and the integration of all these rules, is in a constant state of flux. The penalties for mishandling any one of these areas is often extreme. Vigilant policy awareness and skillfully handling all these communications creates stress.

    5. The tolerance for anything less than perfection is very small. We are not perfect people. This creates stress.

    6. Somewhere in a career, you become aware that what you are giving everyday is a big part of your life. You begin to ask yourself if what you are doing is worth your life. If not, this causes stress.

    7. Pride in quality of work being forced by desire for profit creates stress.

    Stress disturbs peace and creates unrest.

    Unrest often begets unhappiness.
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      Jul 5 2013: Excellent list...

      Rules are created to put a temporary but permanent patch on a problem when the best approach is to simply change the system that caused the problem... This is Total Quality Management which our companies incorporated in the 80's but later rejected because it cost too much money. However, some companies like Motorola still use the concepts.

      95% of the problems in industry are caused by the system and since management controls the systems, then it is management job to fix those systems, but many of them either don't know how or don't see the flow of business activities as a system.

      It is this conflict, I believe, that is the root cause of our problems.
      • Jul 5 2013: TQM, TQL, LEAN, LEAN SIX SIGMA, there are and were many...

        The programs themselves were/are good ideas for what they targeted, but the application of them involves interpretation, part of which requires tailoring the program to suit the needs of an existing process or structure that is working. Too often the application is forced and applied with blind indifference to other unintended consequences. With each new 'program, interpretation, application, regime change' cycle, the work force is churned, usually is forced to do more with less, and subsequently hollowed.

        My analogy for this hollowing is with a column design. You start off with a solid column that someone decided would take a load. With each new three letter program, there is a gradual hollowing of this column. The column may bend a little more, but doesn't break during a perfect average circumstance. However, over time, this hollowing weakens the column and the new failure mode isn't bending too much, it is buckling, sudden and catastrophic.

        The overall risk of total collapse of the continued hollowing is not being monitored, only the short-term gains that might be claimed by a new hollowing process. When this hollowing process is accomplished on many columns in parallel, organizational collapse is at risk. Overtime, it will take a smaller and smaller perturbation to cause this collapse to occur. When collapse occurs, the manager in charge at the time plays the victim and blames employees, circumstance and past leadership.

        Employees involved in this process are usually forced into the role of spectator and then often reprimanded, demonized, or otherwise held in contempt when they try to suggest or make changes that might benefit the long term processes. Sort of beaten with the "Team player" stick, with team player being defined by current management.

        This causes stress, and as you point out is caused by management.
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    Jul 5 2013: Hello again Alex:>)
    One of your statements that jumps out at me is this...
    "Studies over the years have revealed that workers feel better about themselves and their job when they are fully engaged and have ownership over what they are doing,"

    I learned as a child, to do what I love, and/or love what I'm doing. There is ALWAYS an opportunity to learn something with any situation, and from any people we interact with. We may not particularly like certain people or situations that we work with, but NOBODY can stop us from being fully engaged and having ownership over our own thoughts, feelings and behaviors.

    If we choose to spend time and energy hating what we are doing, hating bosses, people with whom we work, customers we deal with, etc., I suggest the problem is not externally, but rather internally. Hate is a choice. Learning to get along with people and life circumstances is also a choice.
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      Jul 5 2013: Yes, I would have a tendency to agree with you but there are those who like what they do but hate their bosses. For example, at a Ford Motor Co. plant a few years ago, about 150 new cars had their vinyl tops slashed by a worker because he had been treated poorly by a supervisor.

      There may also be another person who loves their job as well but is undermined by a co-worker who wants that person to look bad so that they can look good so they will get the promotion. After a while one begins to hate going to work.

      So, there are many factors that cause Americans to dislike going to work.
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        Jul 6 2013: Alex,
        It sounds like you think/feel there are perfectly good reasons to hate? It seems like you are justifying hate?

        "intense hostility and aversion usu. deriving from fear, anger, or sense of injury".

        Usually, hate is more detrimental to the one who hates, then it is to the one who is hated. Hate is a choice people make to try to deal with their own hostility, anger, sense of injury and fear, and I see no logical reason to do that to oneself. Do you?
  • Jul 7 2013: Because working for money is slavery, if you need money to stay alive.
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      Jul 18 2013: Interesting perspective. Money is, of course, just a means of barter to get potatoes and carrots. Same as working directly for potatoes and carrots (farming) really, though more flexible since it's easier to trade $$ for a shirt than to trade carrots for one. Turns out that working = slavery, and we're all slaves. Hm.
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    Jul 5 2013: People value autonomy, responsibility, a sense of meaning, a challenge they can meet, some variety, a chance to learn, and a sense of being respected personally. Any of these may be absent in a workplace.

    Many people also have natural sleeping and waking rhythms that are not consistent with a 9-5 schedule and yet must work that schedule in the sort of work they have prepared themselves to do. Many people look forward to retirement so that they can finally sleep on a schedule natural to them.

    Another factor is the number of hours. Many people cannot negotiate working the number of hours that would be optimal for them, given their priorities for their time. Managers may find it inefficient to monitor and enforce widely different hours for different employees based on employee preferences.

    All this said, I quite agree with Colleen that in many circumstances, attitude is a big factor. Some people easily accept a mix of positive aspects and inconveniences in the workplace (things that work best for the boss but not for them, for example), as long as the positives outweigh the negatives while others focus only on the things they do not like in situations. This is not just a workplace phenomenon.
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    Jul 18 2013: I don't think Americans bitch about work any more than any other culture. Butt-kissing goes on all over the world. If you like your job you're unlikely to complain much, and vice versa. But again, times have changed: people today are much more occupied with rights, and less likely to put up with conditions and orders that were accepted by earlier generations. Or maybe we've all just become bitchier over the past decades.
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      Jul 18 2013: it may be all over the world as you say... where employees bitch to be bitching... but not everyone all over the world wants to get the most amount of money for the least amount of work like they do here in the US of A.
  • Jul 6 2013: People work both for money and respect, from themselves and others (as well as for sustenance). Volunteers work just for respect. The less respect people get, from all, the more they have to be paid. Unfortunately, for some, money, especially with high interest rates, is worth more than respect.
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    Jul 5 2013: I haven't read the whole explanation for the question, here's just a little perspective from my own experience:

    About work:
    - getting calls and telehones from EVERYBODY that you just HAVE to answer, otherwise, you might me in trouble if you don't do that....
    - people around you do what they want and don't care that you're a human being, shut up and work
    - and so on........

    A long story. Best wishes. Thanks for the question.

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      Jul 5 2013: I think you are spot on Anna... thanks for sharing... and, while the question, I hope, will bring about a lot of responses, my biggest concern is the fact of how SAD this is for our culture and our workplaces.
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        Jul 5 2013: That's just one of the spots.

        It is not only SAD. It's BAD.

        Thanks for asking.

        And there's a lot more to it.

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    Jul 5 2013: I can assure you that Americans are not the only people to feel that way. In Indian parlance this is called 'doing-the-job' syndrome. A mindless, passionless, unexciting drudgery nonetheless a necessary malady.
    I suffered it. I handed it with some imagination. For years I struggled to create a niche in the office chores. I was the first in my organization to demand to come to office in non-working hours, working through the night, getting a shower and a sleeping quarter in my lab, wearing informal clothes once every week. How painstaking were these small changes is a different story, but it helped in breaking the drudgery.
    Of course I don't have to deal with the customers but I need to deal with Finance execs, who, in their day can make someone go crazy by their procedural stupidity.
    Oh btw, my lab is the only place in my organization where you can access facebook and Youtube without being given the bland blue screen from the System admin.
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      Jul 5 2013: Just another brick in the wall... like so many of us...
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      Jul 5 2013: Yes, I agree. In fact, in 2008 when the economies all over the world were suffering, the economy of POLAND was not and many believe it was caused by all the entrepreneurs that they had in place, who were operating 2-3 person companies.
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      Jul 5 2013: This, for me, was absolutely incredible to read, and I want to thank you for sharing. And, I will check out that website. If you have any other information that you can send me, please do so at and again, thanks so much.
  • Jul 5 2013: I assure you, it is not just americans who hate work. I find it amazing when i hear that someone enjoys work. People who get paid to do things that they enjoy are truly blessed.