Underneath my yellow skin

Tag Archives: social norms

American toxicity of constant productivity

There was a question in the Ask A Manager’s work open thread that really struck a chord with me (and many in the commentariat). It was about having a question about what did you do for self-improvement during the pandemic placed on their list of standard interview questions. She thought it was tone-deaf and was wondering if she was just being too sensitive since she had a (literal) breakdown during the pandemic. The question is here (search for Keymaster of Gozer if the link doesn’t take you directly to the question, which it should). It struck me not just because it’s an awful question, but because it’s so on brand for America and its passion for being productive all the time.

It’s everywhere. You see it often in fitness magazines that counsel how to turn ordinary events into exercise. It’s doubly so for parents who have a serious time crunch. I’m not against it in general because it can make sense to do a twofer when you’re running short on time. However, the mania for making every minute ‘productive’ is, ironically, counterproductive to mental health. I know for me personally that if I only think about maximizing everything for productivity, I start feeling like shit because you can never 100% that category.

In addition, it’s a con when it’s used in the business sense. It’s a way for TPTB to keep their workers down by holding up a mythical standard of productivity over their heads that no one can live up to. If the workers are pressed to be productive at all costs, they can’t take time to think about anything else. It’s always frustrating when non-Americans on AAM comment about how dismal things are for employees in America because we fucking know! They’re right, though, in that so many of us are caught up in that web. And, again, being told it’s unproductive to ‘only’ work 40 hours per week is not uncommon in America. American workers are told they’re lazy if they actually want to have work/life balance, much to everyone’s detriment. Not only to the worker who is forced to give so much of their life to the company, but for the company itself as an exhausted workforce is not good for anyone.

Anyway, in response to the question above, my answer would be thusly:


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