After the revelations that NFL players Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson had abused wife and son, respectively, a national conversation erupted. One issue debated was whether playing professional football made it more likely for men to abuse their families.

According to Benjamin Morris of FiveThirtyEight, domestic violence arrest rates among NFL players are lower than the national average by raw numbers. But factoring in income level, the NFL’s domestic violence arrest rates are high, accounting for 55 percent of all arrests among NFL players.

Whatever the domestic violence correlation is in professional football, the conversation about NFL culture provides a chance to examine the broader relationship between all work life and home life. We believe there is a crisis brewing in the home because of practices in the American workplace. The way we work—no matter the nature of the work—inflicts the quiet violence of domestic neglect. We’re talking about the culture of overwork.

Americans are working longer weeks than ever. The Center for American Progress (a liberal D.C. think tank) reports that 86 percent of men and 67 percent of women now work more than 40 hours a week. They are skipping vacations to boot. We Americans don’t get that much to begin with. After 10 years of service, the average German gets 20 days of paid vacation, the English, 28, and the Finns, 30. Americans? Fifteen days—and we’re not even taking them.

Add to that how many check work e-mail at home and during the weekend, and how many jobs require employees to be away from their families for 100–200 days of business travel a year. It’s not hard to imagine the toll this takes on family and one’s personal life.

The upside to all this work is healthy growth in U.S. productivity, which potentially helps businesses increase profits and raise wages. But the downsides are many.

A 2004 review by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that in 16 of 22 studies, worker overtime was associated with poorer perceived general health, increased injury rates, more illnesses, and increased mortality. Two recent studies have linked long work hours to a higher risk of depression. One of them, in the June 2008 Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, sampled 10,000 people and showed higher levels of anxiety and depression in those who put in the most overtime. As for the effects on those close to us, in a 2007 American Psychological Association study, 52 percent of employees reported that their job demands interfered with their family or home responsibilities.

Can we hear the silent screams in the home? The husband who snaps at his wife and children because of work pressures. Or ends up in the hospital from stress-induced heart disease. The mother drowning in anxiety about leaving her kids so many hours of the week. Children who scan the school assembly, hoping against hope that their mother or father will be there to see them receive an award. The spouse who slumps into bed alone while the partner does the same in a hotel 2,000 miles away. This is a type of violence—in the form of neglect—that families experience all across our land every day. And it rarely if ever makes the headlines, let alone sparks a national conversation. It’s a tragedy because it sabotages love in the first place God intends it to be expressed.

Every business—and even nonprofit—is tempted to foster a culture of overwork. I’m proud to say that Christianity Today does better than most (our standard workweek is 37.5 hours, for example). But to be frank, our managers and executives struggle to take vacation days and not work on weekends (I speak autobiographically here). When you combine business necessities with a sense of mission, the workplace can tempt one to sacrifice the family on the altar of success.

God intended for work to promote the general welfare (Gen. 1–2). American businesses and nonprofits do that in spades when it comes to improving lifestyles and helping the widow and orphan. But we will have done little for our social “bottom line” if we sustain a work culture that inflicts the quiet violence of neglect.

The most practical step forward is for workplace leaders to promote even more family-friendly work practices, like insisting on Sabbath days and weeks, flextime, family leave for various situations, paid maternity leave—whatever is appropriate in a given workplace. Simple steps like this have complex consequences in business, to be sure, but even one small step in the workplace can lead to a giant leap for the home.

Mark Galli is editor of Christianity Today.

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