This piece at the Reuters blog got my attention this morning:
Life for the medieval peasant was certainly no picnic. His life was shadowed by fear of famine, disease and bursts of warfare. His diet and personal hygiene left much to be desired. But despite his reputation as a miserable wretch, you might envy him one thing: his vacations.Not saying I'm looking to trade antibiotics for week-long wedding celebrations, but this should make us think about what we accept as progress.
Plowing and harvesting were backbreaking toil, but the peasant enjoyed anywhere from eight weeks to half the year off. The Church, mindful of how to keep a population from rebelling, enforced frequent mandatory holidays. Weddings, wakes and births might mean a week off quaffing ale to celebrate, and when wandering jugglers or sporting events came to town, the peasant expected time off for entertainment. There were labor-free Sundays, and when the plowing and harvesting seasons were over, the peasant got time to rest, too. In fact, economist Juliet Shor found that during periods of particularly high wages, such as 14th-century England, peasants might put in no more than 150 days a year.
As for the modern American worker? After a year on the job, she gets an average of eight vacation days annually.
-- Why a medieval peasant got more vacation time than you by Lynn Parramore
When workers fought for the eight-hour workday, they weren't trying to get something radical and new, but rather to restore what their ancestors had enjoyed before industrial capitalists and the electric lightbulb came on the scene.American society is guided by a strong commitment to capitalism and a Puritan work ethic that places moral value on physical work. Leisure is still seen as practically (or literally) sinful. (Just look at all the arguments put forth about "the welfare state" and its effect on "work ethic".) But because we view the present as a natural consequence of continuous social improvements, it's difficult to convince people that toiling away is actually harming us, both personally and as a nation, setting us backwards, not forwards.
Job stress is estimated to cost U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year inThere is a lot of evidence that this stress is killing us, too.
absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical, legal and insurance costs
More than half of adults report that family responsibilities are a significant source of stress and 55% of employees say that job demands have interfered with responsibilities at home in the past three months. (American Psychological Association, 2009).
Here's a taste of some of the protections that workers around the world enjoy and Americans do not:
There's no denying that many of us (as Westerners) take a lot of things for granted (though access is still far from universal); things that would have been miraculous not long ago. When we're sick, we go to a doctor who can probably prescribe something to make it better, or buy over-the-counter remedies for headaches and fevers at the local drug store. We have access to a variety of healthful foods and vitamins so we no longer have to worry about rickets or scurvy. Our public buildings and most of our homes have air conditioning in the summer and artificial heat in the winter. We are fighting to guarantee equal access to public education, something that was not even a possibility for nearly all of human history. But that doesn't mean we do everything better. Maybe there is still something to be learned from the serf lifestyle.163 countries around the world offer guaranteed paid leave to women in connection with childbirth. The U.S. does not.
45 countries ensure that fathers either receive paid paternity leave or have a right to paid parental leave. The United States guarantees fathers neither paid paternity nor paid parental leave.
At least 96 countries around the world in all geographic regions and at all economic levels mandate paid annual leave. The U.S. does not require employers to provide paid annual leave.
139 countries provide paid leave for short- or long- term illnesses,with 117 providing a week or more annually. The U.S. provides only unpaid leave for serious illnesses through the FMLA, which does not cover all workers.
40 countries have government-mandated evening and night wage premiums. The U.S. does not.
At least 98 countries require employers to provide a mandatory day of rest: a period of at least 24 hours off each week. The U.S. does not guarantee workers this weekly break.
-- Family Friendly Policy: Lessons from Europe
originally posted at my personal blog: stephaniesylverne.com