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Is modern working making us all "time poor"?

Is modern working making us all "time poor"?
ArticleHealthWork Life Balance

​It’s no secret that modern day life can be stressful. Amongst the majority of us there is often a persistent feeling of being weighed down by jobs that never feel fully done from answering endless emails to picking up the kids, to food shopping.

This feeling is referred to in the corporate world as a “perennial time-scarcity problem.” This time famine is a new, current day phenomenon and has been growing ferociously amongst executives all over the world; with white collar working parents affected the most acutely.

By contrast, leisure time has actually been slowly increasing since the 1960's and we are regularly told that new technology is one of the reasons this has happened. Designed to make our lives easier, technology should be increasing our leisure time, right? We now have dishwashers, washing machines and microwaves to assist with household chores; plus an app for everything from collecting your dry cleaning to delivering recipes and ingredients to your door.

So with new technology helping to increase the number of free hours we have in a day, why do we feel like we still never have enough? There are two factors at work here; how we now perceive our time and our expectations of what we should be doing with it and secondly, technology actually doing the opposite and eating up all our free time. 

Ever since the industrial revolution used a clock to measure output, our days are financially quantifiable and this creates a need to use them profitability. I’m sure your manager is always talking about working “smart” and using the hours in your day effectively to increase results. T his is only intensified in bigger, richer cities where the wages are higher, the cost of living is dramatically rising and this in turn, increases the value of people’s time. According to a recent Gallup poll, the more well-off you are the more time poor you feel.

So it makes sense that the more you are paid for work, the more you tend to work because working becomes a more profitable use of time. Meaning those leisure hours are far and few between; and the few you do have become more stressful as you feel compelled to use it wisely to ensure that it is as worthwhile as working.

Secondly, fuelled by technology such as smart phones, social media and email, we have become a society of instant gratification which creates a desperate urgency to make every moment count. The expectations on us, and us on others, to respond instantly to questions and demands from messages, means we are constantly switched on and this has a huge impact on our down time.

Gone are the days of long lunches that used to be enjoyed by executives on the golf course as we grab a sandwich and trawl through endless emails hunched over a laptop at our desks.

This technology eats into our leisure time by creating an assumption from managers that we should be constantly available on our work phones during evenings, weekends and holidays. The demands of full time modern working means we don’t get to switch off anymore. This is impacting our health and well-being without us even realising it. 

Psychologists have recently studied the link between stressing over a deficit in time and lower well-being, anxiety and insomnia. In a series of surveys carried out by the University of British Columbia, it was found that those who pay for chores, are happier and have a higher life satisfaction. This allows for more leisure time and means less time doing a “second shift” of household chores at the weekend and in the evenings.

More recently greater feelings of job insecurity and concern about competition due to slow economic growth, the rising costs of living and living longer are all making people more nervous about career prospects than they used to be. This means we feel under pressure to plug more hours into future security in the here and now.

It is undeniable that an increasing number of people are trading leisure time for work because of the gains of working and the costs of not, are higher than ever. Although, let’s not forget that some people put in long hours because they enjoy their job and the prestige and rewards that come with it.

Being “time poor” is on the rise, especially for the better-off, better educated parents of this world. It has become expensive to stop work, even for a short period of time for example maternity leave, and this has led to less time for play and a harried leisure class.

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