Saturday, December 5, 2020 -
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Israeli deathbed lament: ‘I wish I’d spent more time at the office’

A recent study published by the Bank of Israel concluded that Israel has joined the rarified ranks of the chronically overworked, coming in third behind Japan and South Korea among developed nations.

We’re not entirely sure if that’s a blessing or a curse.

With 5% of workers overall putting in 60 or more hours a week, and 9% of low-income earners working at least that many hours, it’s clear that the proverbial work ethic is alive and well in the Jewish state.

But although it looks good on paper — and most employers clearly love it, since more hours suggest more productivity — overworking might not necessarily be such a good thing after all, at least according to one knowledgeable source.

Dr. Raphael Snir, senior lecturer at the Tel Aviv-Yafo Academic College, noted in a recent Jerusalem Post interview that many Israelis who overwork are likely clinical workaholics.

Snir defined such individuals as “people who have an uncontrollable desire to be at work for a significant amount of time.”

Such people suffer from an obsessive-compulsive personality, a psychological disorder with such symptoms as perfectionism and rigid conformity to rules and procedures. They are often descendants of other workaholics, or were raised in households in which chaos reigned — particularly alcoholism — and tend to compensate as adults by overworking.

Although Snir didn’t say it, we suspect that the intensity of Israeli culture — and the omnipresent state of siege and threat that dwells there — might also factor in Israel’s rather high level of overworking.

Others who routinely put in extra hours, according to Snir, do so not out of any sense of compulsion or obsession, but simply because their job demands it — particularly true in high-tech fields, apparently — or because they love to work.

Companies that demand their workers work more than the average hours — or which make a point of rewarding workers who put in more than their share — value output, Snir says, and assume “that a worker who works more hours is a better worker.”

Not necessarily. Many studies have shown that working longer hours can result in poor decision-making and lowered employee performance. One study, focusing on doctors, found that physicians who work long shifts had more arguments, made poorer diagnoses and saw an overall decline in the quality of the medical treatment they delivered.

On the other hand — of course, in Jewish culture there is always the other hand — not all overworking is negative, Snir stresses. Happy worker bees who like to stay late are probably better off in exactly that sort of work environment.

“You have to look at two factors — its root and its effects. Is it coming from a compulsive place? Is it disrupting family life? If so, that is workaholism,” Snir advises.

To that extent and to those individuals, both in Israel and elsewhere, we say: Chill out a bit. As for the rest, get back to work!

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