Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Can Less Be More When It Comes To Work?

Perhaps no other nation has identified more with a strong work ethic than the United States of America.  Settled first by Puritans who believed in the morality of hard work — the Puritan Work Ethic — our nation has been built on strong backs and a commitment to getting the job done.  Generations of Americans have believed that one can get anywhere they want in life if they work hard enough.  While the average American does not do the amount of physical labor of workers of previous generations, work is something that is still highly valued.  For example, most of us are highly critical of people who are lazy or are slackers.  In fact, many of us are resentful of people that do not work, though that is a topic for another day.  

As I write this, according to recent statistics, our state has reached the point where everyone looking for a job has a job.  In fact, in many parts of our state’s economy, there are simply not enough workers.  That said, the point that I want to make is that while this is a good thing, in the bigger perspective, is it good for us as individuals?  Is it good for us in our social and family life?  Is it good in terms of productivity and the economy?  Lets take a look.

Americans work 137 hours more per year than Japanese workers, 260 more hours a year than British workers, and 499 more hours per year than French workers, according to data gathered by the International Labour Organization. In addition, workers in the United States do not have any federal laws that require paid sick days, annual leave or parental leave, thus adding more working hours compared to workers in other parts of the world.

In 1930, famed pro-capitalism economist John Maynard Keynes proposed that the workaholic culture of that era would eventually give way to a more efficient work economy with a very high standard of living in which Americans would be working as few as 15 hours a week.  That has not been the case, contrary to his belief that technological advances in the work place would allow people to work less and produce more.  In fact, the opposite has occurred.  

Boston University professor Erin Reid has produced research that shows that the longer people work, their level of productivity drops.  Working longer hours does not result in increased productivity, and it actually decreases after 50 hours of work a week.  In fact, Reid found that a person who works 70 hours in a week actually produces the same amount as an individual who works 55 hours.  The law of diminishing returns kicks in and employers are actually paying for nothing at that point.

There is no question that Americans value their weekends and other free time.  Some pack as much into that time as possible, with the leisure market in our country a very profitable industry.  And, there is some early data that the millennial workforce that values a balance between work and play are forcing employers to look at different options in terms of work schedules to attract the best and the brightest.  Flexibility in the workplace is much more common as the young labor force is not prepared to sacrifice their personal life for work.

When one looks at the modern American family, it is not too much of a reach to suggest that in some families parents are too busy working to spend time with this kids.  It is a simple argument to suggest that some of society’s problems could be lessened if people were working less and giving more time to supporting their children and serving their communities.  Europeans in the middle class tend to take full advantage of holidays (vacations) experiencing the world and spending time with family.  When it comes to starting families, other developed nations provide significant paid time to both mothers and fathers after the birth of a child. Is it possible that our American work ethic has turned around and bit us in the tail?  While we have been out there working to make a good living, we have lost site of other important things.

Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate work in our country.  What is important is that the work gets done, and from what we know, it is getting done.  There is no doubt that many businesses are responding to worker’s desires for more flexibility, and perhaps it will not be long before Americans are taking care of themselves and the stresses they have because of work.  It would seem that the rest of the world is doing just fine working less and maybe it is time we do the same.

Friday, January 4, 2019

My Suggestions for Change to a Sport I Love

Watching football, especially college football, is one of my greatest pleasures.  I plan my weekends in the fall around the Nebraska Cornhuskers football schedule.  I love almost everything about the game!  The one thing I don’t like, and I haven’t liked for years, is what is the gratuitous attempts by someplayers (and coaches) to inflict injury on opposing players.  I personally remember the night that Jack Tatum of the Oakland Raiders launched himself like a missile at Daryl Stingley, a receiver for the Patriots.  Stingley never took another step in his life as he lived the rest of it in a wheelchair.  The game was always rough, but after that it seemed that defenders recognized that they could intimidate offensive players with the threat of blasting them to Kingdom Come.  That’s also how you could get on Sports Center.  And, it was with this that players started talking publicly about inflicting injury or harm on other players.

With better equipment came more fearless players and more physical play.  Back when they first emerged, helmets were soft and used with the purpose of protecting the players head, not to be used as a weapon.  Bigger, stronger, faster players have become capable of delivering incredibly hard hits.  The result of this has been the discovery of CTE and the incredible number of concussions and head injuries suffered by players.  The crazy thing is that there was a time in the history of professional football that the game was so violent that President Theodore Roosevelt threatened to end the sport in the country unless rules were implemented to bring about more humane play.  At all levels today, rules have changed, but from what I read, they are not resolving the problems they were designed to prevent.  Of course, Roosevelt was responding to players dying on the playing field, but I would argue that what is happening to players today is only slightly less serious when one takes into consideration that some ultimately end up taking their own lives or dying well before their time.

Participation numbers at the high school level have been on a downward trend for the past few years.  In some states there has been as much as a 10% drop in the past decade.  Participation in youth football has declined across the country.  In the past two years over 35 players under the age of 30 have retired from playing in the NFL, giving concern about head injuries and CTE as the reason.  From my perspective as a school leader, I do not blame parents or students at all if they choose not to play.  The risks are there, and each year despite the efforts of our coaches to teach safe technique, we have multiple players experience concussions.  So what can happen to make this sport more safe without doing too much to change the integrity of the game?  Is there anything that can be done?

Rule-makers at various levels are heeding the concerns and are making some changes.  For instance, at all levels new rules in recent years against targeting, or a defensive player leading with his head, have been put into place.  Referees have been diligent in making the calls in spite of some players, coaches, and fans disagreeing with some of the calls that are made.  The point is, the officials are cognizant of the potential harm that might come from these blows.  Some argue that it has changed the game and at times defensive players are being unfairly punished.  Along with these changes, the NFL is putting a couple of new rules in place this season, one being a change to kickoffs, where they report a large number of damaging hits take place, and another more specifically defining what leading with the head looks like, including from the perspective of an offensive player.  It will be interesting to see if these rule changes have the impact they expect.

While the rule changes may have an impact, there are changes to the game otherwise that have some traditionalists frustrated.  The game has become more wide-open with a lot more passing and reliance on speed over brute force and power.   For many, it is more exciting than watching teams run the ball between the tackles.  Regardless, the physical play still exits among linemen, banging heads each time the ball is snapped.  And, with the speed at which they are playing, collisions in the open field are still physical.  The vast majority of coaches are doing a good job of teaching technique for tackling and blocking that lessens the risk of head injuries, but the reality is that one cannot eliminate it.

I want the game to remain, and I want it to be safe.  My primary idea seems radical, and usually people instantly dismiss it when I share it.  What I propose is to take the helmets and shoulder pads off the players.  As soon as I say that I get one of three responses.  The first is, “Oh, you want to turn it into rugby."  The second one is usually along the line of “Then it wouldn’t be football.”  And the third is, “So you want them to play touch or flag football?”  No, I am suggesting that you keep the vast majority of the rules of the game in place, but players do not wear helmets or shoulder pads.  I wouldn’t’ be opposed to using some soft padding to protect a bruise, sprain, or contusion, but nothing that is hard that can be used as a weapon to injure an opposing player.  The helmet gives a sense of invincibility and some players simply believe that they will be protected.  They don’t give a thought to colliding with another player, or leading with their head.  Take the helmet off and it won’t take long before they change their ways.  They will not play with the reckless abandon risking a hard lick to their head.  The reality is that we as humans by our nature avoid situations that hurt!

Yes, the game will look different, and it may be even more wide-open than it is now.  I don’t think it will look like rugby, other than the players may be outfitted the same.  And even if it does, fans in many countries are as fanatical about their sport of rugby as we are with football.  The current game looks a lot different than it did back in the early 1900’s, and I am sure if we could bring back some of those old players they may not be fans of the way the game is played today.  But that said, I believe it is a way to save the game.  Let youth players go back to playing flag football where they learn the fundamentals.  Put more running into the game so that players are healthier and fit.  It can still be a tough, physical game, just safer.