There's a new breed of role model swerving off the high-speed career track -- the "downshifters."
Author Amy Saltzman, who coined the term, defines downshifters as people who voluntarily leave exhausting jobs for a slower pace so they can smell the roses and enjoy more balanced lives.
Look around. Maybe there's a downshifter near you. They're spending more time with their kids and less with their jobs. They work part- or flex-time instead of full time or overtime. They're gung ho for their families and communities, not their corporations and careers.
"The much-glorified supermacho work ethic of the 1980s is increasingly seen as a silly habit; and it's less productive than previously thought," Saltzman says in a telephone interview from her Washington office.
In her new book, "Downshifting: Reinventing Success on a Slower Track," she contends that Americans' views of work and leisure have changed drastically. A 1989 survey of 1,000 professionals showed that their average workload had increased 10 hours since the mid-1970s, to 52 hours a week. But two-thirds were willing to take a salary cut averaging 13 percent if they could have more family and personal time.
In a January study, the Hilton Hotel Corp. reported that 50 percent of 1,010 workers said they would sacrifice a day's pay for an extra day off each week. And given a choice of goals, 77 percent said "spending time with family and friends" was a priority, compared with 61 percent who cited "making money."
This indicates downshifting could become a major trend of the 1990s, Saltzman claims. "This isn't the same as dropping out, 1960s style; this is carving out your own notion of success in your field."
"Our society's whole value system is undergoing a significant change," says psychologist Mori Freed. "People realize they don't need all the toys they thought they did; it's not worth it."
Downshifting often occurs at mid-career among upper-middle-income people with transferable skills, says Dick Holland, an industrial psychologist at Georgia State University. "They begin to reflect on their mortality and whether their lives have been meaningful," says Dr. Holland.
Also encouraging the phenomenon in the 1990s, he says, are the heightened competition for mid-career jobs, due to mergers and downscaling in American industry; the glut of baby boomers now in their 40s; and the changing role of women, which leaves men less obligated to be "the great providers."
Experts warn that downshifting can have a downside. Some careerists who scale back will experience disappointment if their new lives as fishing guides grow dull or their new businesses lose money. Co-workers may be jealous of a downshifter who extracts a sweetheart deal from a sympathetic employer.
Downshifters will encounter employers who won't hire them because they're suspicious of anyone seeking a lesser job. "That goes against the grain of the great American success story; you're supposed to climb the ladder as long as you can," says job counselor John Challenger of Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
"Think twice before blaming your unhappiness on your skills and experience," Challenger advises. "If your work environment has soured, change companies, not careers."