Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

How Burnouts Became A Status Symbol

Today, staying late at the office is as big of a statement as wearing a suit to work. You’re not just earning a living, you’re succeeding.

So when someone complains to you about being overworked, they’re actually boasting about how important they are. 

The opposite is also true. Do you sleep in on weekends?

You must not have much going on. In fact, people will probably think you lack grit and ambition. Although they won’t tell you that to your face.

Working yourself to the bone wasn’t always associated with success.

About 200 years ago, work was for the poor. 

As the peasants toiled, the affluent lived off their assets and spent their days lazing about, maybe waged a war or two. Back then, unemployment was something to be proud of.

So what changed?

Productivity.

Before the industrial revolution, everyone who wasn’t a noble worked in agriculture. But once our brightest minds invented steam and water-powered machines that could do the work of ten men, we didn’t need as many farmers.

We mainly needed factory workers.

As time went on and our machines became even more advanced, we needed even fewer people in agriculture and manufacturing. Automation then forced the majority to work in the service industry.

For the first time in history, we had an abundance of specialists that had nothing to do with producing food and goods: bankers, accountants, artists, writers, engineers, economists, doctors, drivers, chefs, scientists. 

You name the profession, we suddenly had plenty of it.

The economy was booming like never before so many people thought that we could start working less. In 1930, economist John Maynard Keynes predicted people would eventually work 15 hours a week. Two decades later, president Nixon forecast a 4-day workweek.

People were elated.

But over the years our feelings changed. 

The fear crept in that free time would bring on restlessness and perhaps even violence. 

As you know, we never got to find out what would happen with too much time on our hands. We never got our shortened workweek.

Instead, women stormed the job market in the ‘70s and everyone started working more. Men included. 

Although we now have more wealth than ever before—the American GDP of today is 2000% larger than it was in 1930 —we’re also working harder than ever before.

Why?

Partly thanks to the sense of achievement we feel after a good day’s work. But the bigger reason we work ourselves to death has to do with our lifestyle.

We don’t consume less as we get more wealthy, we spend more.

Which makes sense.

Technology has not only made us more productive and rich, but it’s also given us far more high-quality goods and services.

So as our bank accounts ripen, so usually does our taste for finer things. Why drive a Fiat Panda or Kia Picanto if you can drive a Merc?

Even if you’re not a material person, it’s still difficult to take time off when you know every hour not working is money lost.

And when losing or making money is that easy, workaholism easily becomes a status symbol.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach