Working to live, not living to work

On Labor Day, President Obama signed into action an executive order that would allow up to seven days of sick paid leave for federal contractors and subcontractors. This executive order bolsters the president’s plans to further improve the workplace environment nationwide along with pay raises, discrimination bans, and other elements that would equate to a holistic improvement in the national workplace. The benefits of this executive order extend further than the tangible implications, because it contributes to a necessary reform in the American work culture.

We are ruled by clocks, paychecks, and deadlines, which ultimately distract us from what we work so hard for in the first place. While the president is unable to make a sweeping unilateral change to the workplace environment, the action he has taken will lay the foundation for further improvement in the future. Workplace culture has evolved into what is now over a long period of time, and in order for any type of meaningful change to be initiated, patience will be required.   

Approximately 300,000 workers would stand to benefit from this executive order, which will go into effect at the beginning of next year. While criticism can be made about the increase in potential sick days, it is hard to argue that this policy, which cultivates a work culture actually intuitive to the variability of human life, will be a detriment to society. Work culture should conform and contort to the needs of the worker, not the other way around. It is natural to get sick. It is natural to find yourself unable to perform your tasks from time to time. The goal should not be to either ignore or punish the intrinsic vulnerabilities of humanity but rather to find ways to accept and accommodate them.      

Life could be easier than it is now. We accept the uncomfortable elements of our lives because we see others doing the same, and that inadvertently perpetuate a culture that dictates discomfort as the status quo. We have grown accustomed to the type of fear that lead people to strain themselves as opposed to calling in sick or prioritizing work over family or social commitments. Those in opposition to the president’s executive order raise the point that compensation could be siphoned from the employee in another way to pay for the extra sick leave and that this new policy has the potential to be abused.

These arguments are not unfounded, but they pale in comparison with the possibility that perhaps, in the future, work will not be the most stressful parts of our lives. Is it written in stone anywhere that work must be unpleasant, grueling, and tiresome? Surely the need to generate income is essential to surviving in this world, but its necessity does not mandate the harsh parameters we have willingly imposed upon ourselves. So instead of advocating for policy that will make our lives harder and benefit those who profit from our discomfort, why not move toward a world where we can work to live and not live to work?

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