AUGUST 18, 2014

New! CityU Library Reviews (starting with “Overwhelmed”)

Cover of "Overwhelmed"

Tammy photoIt is no surprise that librarians love to read, right?  CityU librarians are always looking for interesting, current, and relevant resources to support student learning.  Now, they are reviewing of some of their favorite reads and sharing them with you!  CityU book reviews will feature materials relevant to academic programs. Each review will include curriculum connections and a list of related resources.  We hope you enjoy learning and discovering new resources with us! Read our first review of “Overwhelmed” below.

Review by Tammy Salman, Associate Director of Instruction

Brigid Schulte, a Washington Post journalist, takes a well-researched and incisive look at what she terms “the overwhelm” Americans (and people in other industrialized nations) are experiencing in the 21st century as technology and work-devoted cultural expectations have blurred the boundary between work and leisure. Beautifully written, Overwhelmed explores the intersection of work, love, and play through the the history of leisure time, as well as changing views on work and gender issues such as men’s increasing desire to spend less time at the office and more time with their families.

Work: “Research shows that forcing long hours, face time for the sake of face time, and late nights actually kills creativity and good thinking, and the ensuing stress, anxiety, and depression eat up health-care budgets” (p. 88)

Schulte analyzes the modern workplace and work expectations in the context of brain research, family employment laws, and the way in which people want to work in the 21st century — versus the 1950s concept of men-at-work-for-long-hours and women-at-home. The latter, outdated model persists despite a shift toward dual-income households and research indicating that both men and women want flexible work hours and more say in decision-making processes. Both men and women increasingly desire jobs that allow them to do meaningful work and also care for loved ones, pursue creative outlets, and be involved in their communities.

The younger generation neither wants to be, nor is impressed by, the “ideal worker warrior” who is on-call and works 60-70 hours a week, devoting decades to a company and risking family, friendships and non-work pursuits. Schulte weaves in her own work-life balance issues as well as interviews with researchers and experts, and she cites a variety of recent legal cases involving women (and some men) who were terminated or pushed out of jobs they liked because they became parents — or because they were parents who requested leave to care for family — and their employers saw them as unfit to do the job despite consistently meeting work objectives on time and at a high quality.

Love: “Time studies now show that mothers’ time with children has been climbing steeply, at the expense of sleep, personal care, and leisure … since 1985” (p. 180).

What happens to families when the overwhelm gets the best of them? Is there a way for both men and women to work flexible hours and be more present as fathers and mothers? Schulte looks at the unintentional slide into traditional gender roles when families feel stressed about balancing work and life issues, the guilt or societal pressure felt by working mothers, and the rise of “intensive mothering” among the middle-class and how these elements contribute to a sense of time loss. She considers a variety of factors which contribute to family anxieties and work-life decisions, from child care to cultural ideals about what a mother is or should be to modern fathers’ push to have a stronger part in rearing their children.

Play: “In polls, surveys, and interviews, people the world over describe their lives as an overwhelming, crazed, and often punishing grind. They say they yearn for nothing more than time for joy” (p. 235).

In this section, Schulte first examines Danish society’s emphasis on leisure and family rather than on work as a measure of success. With low unemployment and a competitive and highly productive workforce, Danes have not sacrificed vacation time or leisure pursuits in order to achieve economic success.  Play is part of the culture, Schulte learns as she talks with families in Denmark, as is gender equality. While Denmark is not perfect, she draws from her interviews universal principles that might apply across borders (e.g., “Meaningful work can be done without working all hours and sacrificing yourself, your family, or your life.”) Delving into definitions of leisure, historical perspectives, and research on gender differences in relation to leisure, Schulte considers the impact of time and how “free time” is perceived. She seeks out groups who have found a way through the overwhelming demands of modern life to carve out time for play – and she takes some time to join in the fun.

Overwhelmed: Work, love, and play when no one has the time. Schulte, Brigid. 2014. New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 369 pages. Check WorldCat.org to find a copy at the library closest to you.

Curriculum Connections

There are a variety of disciplines which might benefit from exploring the themes discussed in Overwhelmed.

Leadership and Management: Consider the role technology plays or can play in allowing for flexible work as an organizational culture rather than a side benefit for just a few people. Schulte provides examples of companies and organizations (like the Pentagon) which allow for and model flexibility, starting with their leadership.

Social Sciences: There are many aspects of anxiety, depression, and neuroscience that could be discussed in psychology, human services, and counseling courses. Overwhelmed explores how technology has allowed for workers to stay connected to work even when they are technically not “working.” Schulte explores technology’s effect on our brains, delving into neurobiological responses when humans are “always on” and not taking time to rest.

Related Resources

This is a short list of the resources referenced in Overwhelmed. Please note: Resources listed with [Login Required] are available to CityU students, faculty and staff, and may be available to other readers through their local libraries.


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