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.