BY: DUSTIN BATTY
Even as recently as the turn of the twenty-first century, social status was conveyed through the ownership of expensive material goods and an abundance of leisure time. People with high social status would display their wealth by spending time on the golf course or on their privately-owned yacht. According to a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research, though, our ideas of social status have changed drastically since then. The research shows that contemporary perceptions of social status are “shifting the focus from the preciousness and scarcity of goods to the preciousness and scarcity of individuals.”
In other words, people no longer see as much value in a life of leisurely luxury. Instead, people are perceived as having high social standing if they themselves are a precious commodity. Someone who is always working long hours and never has time to themselves is seen as “scarce and in demand.” Others assume that this person possesses “desired human capital characteristics” such as competence and ambition, which are commonly associated with a constantly busy schedule.
Keeping constantly busy makes people appear “scarce and in demand,” so they seem important and have a higher social standing.
Although material wealth is no longer a major indicator of social status, conspicuous consumption has not entirely gone by the wayside. Instead of buying items that show off their wealth, though, people are now making purchases that indicate a busy lifestyle. For example, people will avoid menial tasks such as grocery shopping by purchasing food online with a company like Peapod, and having it delivered to their homes. They also use technology like Bluetooth that makes multitasking easier.
These new purchasing patterns are not problematic in and of themselves, but the lifestyle that they promote can be. As stated in a Business News Daily article, people who work at least 50 hours per week “were more likely to have reduced physical and mental well-being.” People who keep themselves busy often skip meals—either because they can’t find the time or they forget to eat—and they have a greater chance of feeling depressed. Another risk of overworking is a higher rate of “heart-related problems.” Keeping constantly busy is also often associated with high levels of stress, which has a plethora of its own physical and mental health complications.
Overworking can cause high levels of stress that can cause physical and mental health issues, including depression.
Despite all the physical and mental health issues that can accompany a constantly busy lifestyle, the new social value that has been given to the workaholic in commercials and other media has coerced some people into thinking that it’s what they want. They are convinced by our culture that all of the negative side effects are worth the high social standing.
The increased rates of stress and depression found in the workplace in recent years have not gone unnoticed. A quick Google search will now provide many articles giving advice on how to avoid or reduce workplace stress. Despite this, though, there is still some stigma surrounding mental health issues such as depression, especially among those who appear socially superior. The assumed “human capital characteristics” of the elite doesn’t include stress and depression, so people need to hide these qualities in order to keep their high social standing.
Workplace wellness is an important topic that people need to talk about more. People need to realize that they don’t need to sacrifice their well-being in order to be successful, and that the lengths to which they are going to maintain their social standing are causing them lasting harm.