When we think of exploited workers we normally think of sweat-shops in a third world country, where people work for pennies a day in horrific conditions. But there is a new class of exploited worker right here in the U.S.A., no matter how much money you make, or your professional status. This all-too-common situation is leading to skyrocketing levels of anxiety, depression, relationship problems, and children's issues.

Sean and Amy come into my psychotherapy office. Though they are well-dressed, they look drawn and stressed. The tension between them is thick. Both work 15-hour days. One works in finance, the other, law.

They have both had to change jobs twice in the last three years since the financial meltdown. They feel insecure in their positions, and fear if they don't work seven days a week, they will be replaced.

Sean is experiencing high levels of anxiety. He hates his incompetent boss and is being asked to do things he doesn't feel good about ethically. He can't concentrate and is having trouble sleeping.

Amy is depressed. They have two small children. She has to leave them in the hands of a nanny, because if she doesn't work this hard she'll be ostracized.

Sean and Amy are coming into therapy as one last-ditch try before divorce.

It seems like ancient history when one salary could be sufficient to have a nice house in the suburbs and provide a fairly nice lifestyle. Dad would be home by six, and the family would sit down to dinner together. What happened?

A recent article in the Huffington Post stated that though the economy is growing again, employment isn't keeping pace with this growth. The reason? American workers are so productive. What does this mean? It means they are being exploited. When people work 100 hours a week and get paid for 40, of course you are going to get productivity.

Since 1980, the compact with the American worker has changed. In the past, the agreement between management and worker was that the company provided security, a decent wage, and good working conditions. In exchange, the worker offered their loyalty and good, hard work. Though there were many problems then, "Made in America" meant something pretty damn good. People worked 8-hour-days and lived more balanced lives and we still had the greatest economy in the world.

Today, workers are being offered none of that. Things are bad whether you are at the bottom of the ladder and need to work three jobs just to keep up with the gas bills, or you are on top and kept tethered to your blackberry 24/7. Most workers have no security, in terms of job, health care, or retirement. Wages have stagnated for decades. And workers need to work in ways that interfere with every other aspect of their lives.

The consequences are dire. In my practice, I am seeing many problems as a result of this. Because people can't take care of themselves, I am seeing health problems. We clearly have an epidemic of stress related health problems in our country, from heart disease, cancer, diabetes, to obesity.

Addictions are through the roof. In order to cope with the stress, people are drinking and drugging at alarming rates.

Untold numbers are experiencing mental health problems. Anxiety and depression are everywhere.

Relationships are fragmenting. People aren't forming life bonds with marriage rates plummeting, and those that do find relationships are having a hard time sustaining them, with divorce continuing to hover at 50%.

Children are suffering. Without having the continuous care of a primary parent, children are suffering in their education and are showing more emotional and cognitive problems than ever.

What can we do?

As painful and as impossible as it seems to do anything about this, with the advent of new technologies, there is a wonderful possibility for creating a new, humane world of work. Let us begin by imagining what this might look like. Together, if we can form this vision, we can move our world in this direction.

First of all, we need to imagine that we can live in a country where we make the best things and provide the best services in the world. And we can do that because we create a good life for people, not in spite of it. We need to create a world where relationship and personal fulfillment are as important as getting that work task done.

In order to accomplish this, we must re-imagine work. Here are a few ideas. What if companies hired couples to work 70 hour weeks total and the couple could split those hours any way they liked? This way, parents could be available for kids who had a snow day. How about if workers reviewed their bosses instead of the other way around? What if companies agreed to a certain income ratio between the guy at the top and the one at the bottom? What if the company guaranteed a cap on profits and shared the rest with the highest percentage going to the bottom? What if companies promised as part of their compensation package that they provided for workers to have a balanced life where relationships were valued as much as time in the office? What if people were allowed to work from home 3 days a week and could work any hours they wanted? What if companies utilized available technologies to limit travel, saving on carbon footprint, and keeping more families together? What if corporate owners, stock owners, management, and labor worked together with the intent of creating the happiest workforce?

Pie in the sky? Pollyanna? Could it really be that in 2011 the idea that you could have a decent life in America be only a crazy dream?

These are just a few starting ideas. If we put our heads together, we can make a difference. What do you think we need to do to change the nature of work in America to make this a better place and improve the lives of all our people?

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Author's Bio: 

Glenn Berger, PhD,is a psychotherapist with 15 years experience in private practice. His invention, "Shrinky" gives you virtually what any good psychotherapist offers:

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