Happy 'Leave the Office Earlier Day'

Do you believe in Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and Batboy? What about the most elusive mythological creature of all -- the 40-hour work week?

Americans work about 49 hours a week -- 350 more hours a year than most Europeans and 70 hours more than the Japanese, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Americans are also working more than their parents did. With shorter vacations, and more people logging in on their home computers, the average annual work schedule has increased 163 hours since the 1970s. That's more than an extra month of work each year.

Do Americans have to wait until Labor Day is decertified as a national holiday before they do something? Or will they join Laura Stack Thursday for the first annual "Leave the Office Earlier Day."

Stack, a corporate consultant who's worked with Coca-Cola, Coors, Lucent Technologies and other large companies, says she's got 10,000 workers who are pledging -- if only for one day -- to leave work on time.

It's a modest proposal -- if not a mildly depressing commentary on contemporary life. What's next? Perhaps employers will give us time off for "National Find a New Job Day."

"It's not about changing jobs or being less productive," says Stack. "It's about being more productive in the hours that you're actually scheduled to work."

Stack points to a recent study of Microsoft Corp. that found workers average only three productive days a week. "You know that hyper-drive you go into before a vacation, when you get everything in place so that you can actually get away and relax?" she says. "You need to harness that energy and focus in everyday situations, so that you can have free time every week."

A Curse of E-Mail on Workers

Even if the typical worker goofs off a bit, there's no denying that it's harder to focus than ever before. "The fax started it," says futurist Dave Zach, who speaks before American Express, 3M and other companies, about the evolution of the workplace.

"When you got a letter, you had time to respond. With a fax and then e-mail, you had to respond right away. Qualitative thinking got replaced by quantitative thinking. You could respond with numbers because you could hide behind them."

Wireless communication only encourages workaholics to become more obsessive, leaving them less time to spend with their families, to travel or reflect upon their life, and to engage in the civic life of their communities.

Most Americans only get two weeks of vacation each year. While 82 percent of workers plan to take time off this summer, nearly one in four will check business e-mail and phone messages while they're away, often on a daily basis, according to a survey conducted by Rasmussen Reports, which will be published in next month's "Hudson Employment Index."

The survey of 1,575 U.S. workers indicates that 38 percent of managers and 40 percent of entrepreneurs vacation with their laptop computers and PDAs to stay digitally tethered to their desks.

"I've heard that e-mails have surpassed all other means of communication," says Zach. "We'll e-mail the person next to us rather than talk with them."

If you're wondering whether you're ready to rise from your cubicle and shout "Hurrah, for Leave Work Earlier Day," consider some of these new products and studies, all of which suggest that you don't really have a job. Rather, the job has you.

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