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The Big Picture
Rebecca "Becky" Coates Nee, a veteran TV news anchor/reporter, is a professional life/career coach. Check out her website at to take the coachability test, subscribe to her free "Beyond the Box" newsletter and to find out if you're an adrenaline junkie.

Is Our Work Ethic Worth It?
by Rebecca Coates Nee
October 8th, 2001

A month ago, when the World Trade Center towers were still standing and most Americans weren't afraid to fly, I was going to write a column about how the Protestant work ethic is burning us out - especially broadcasters.

Reports released on Labor Day showed American workers had added an entire week to their work year in the last decade - far surpassing the second busiest nation, Japan, in total hours logged. In fact, the United States was the only industrialized nation where workers were still increasing their hours, according to a United Nations agency.

Sure, we also have the highest productivity, but our efficiency rate is low. When you compare productivity to hours worked, we fall behind France and Belgium. We also have the highest rates of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. And don't forget about the best selling prescription drugs in our country: Prilosec for heartburn and Prozac for depression.

Sadly, when the deadliest attack on American soil happened a week after Labor Day, the loyalist worker bees were the ones who perished first. The hard-charging early risers, who never missed a day or took a break for lunch were most likely to die in that attack. The Washington Post reported stories about fallen financial traders who could have retired but kept waiting "just one more year" to make just a little more money. Another victim was almost saved when he considered taking the day off to celebrate his daughter's second birthday. But he couldn't miss work.

And there was the 27-year-old administrative assistant who had left this list of goals behind after she died at the office: "Communicate more with the family, travel more and finish school." Workers in the South tower were barely allowed to look up from their keyboards after the first tower was hit, according to the New York Times. "Go back to work," a man bellowed through a megaphone as employees tried to scurry down the stairs. "The fire in the North tower has been contained if you are winded you can get a drink of water or coffee in the cafeteria."

A group from Morgan Stanley trudged faithfully back upstairs, only to be hit by a flying filing cabinet minutes later, when the second plane struck.

The next day, Pentagon employees were back in their cubicles while part of their building still burned. "Go back to work," our leaders told us. "Don't let them win." We broadcasters know the scenario well. We throw ourselves into the path of hurricanes and hostage standoffs like teenage girls running after 'N Sync. We cling onto a tree during a storm to show how hard the wind is blowing as the anchors tell us to "stay safe" and viewers yell "GET INSIDE" to their screens.

And it's not just breaking news that we're willing to die for - some of us have gone live for a feature story during a lightening storm. The news, no matter how trivial, always comes first - before Johnny's soccer game or Cindy's second birthday party. Where will our loyalty get us?

Ask yourself what would be left undone in your life if your world came to a crashing halt today. Maybe because of this tragedy, we American workers can now allow ourselves to pause for longer than just one moment of silence. Maybe we can be loyal to ALL we have - not just our jobs.