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Filling the agenda

by Archives February 15, 2006

When it comes to the amount of working hours we put in, we’ve gone berserk. It is a desparate, dizzy dance, and a soft landing is unlikely. How are you doing? Keeping busy? Hope so! Busy? Aren’t we all? Not busy? What a loser. Want to be busy? Eat faster, get the news faster, communicate faster, date faster-do it all, faster.

Like Victoria Dupuis, 46, who has been living a busy life for 22 years. Every morning, the Concordia Alumni bounds out of bed for her one hour commute to the office. There, she will answer phones and text messages, send e-mails and voice mails, arrange overnight and same-day deliveries, and dash in and out of terse meetings until, at noon, the thumping sound in her head signals lunch.

After eating lunch from a box and downing two Advil, she repeats the morning, only it takes longer, and it’s later than six before she leaves the office.

Employees under stress and their subsequent mental health problems are the fastest growing category of disability costs in Canada. According to a 2003 Canada Health study, they account for an estimated 30 to 40 per cent of disability claims reported by Canada’s major employers and insurance companies. The same report concludes that mental health problems are costing employers $44 billion a year. Twenty per cent of the costs were due to absenteeism while 80 per cent could be attributed to reduced on-the-job productivity.

A U.S. Senate subcommittee in 1967 predicted that by 1985, people could be working just 22 hours a week, or 27 weeks a year, or could retire at 38. The major challenge facing people in the future, they thought, should have been what to do with all the leisure time provided by technological wizardry.

Instead, in 2006 we are so harried and hurried that we have no time for the things that truly matter and must be done slowly, such as conversations, taking a leisurely stroll outside, listening to other people, or simple relaxation.

How did we go from the idea of a leisure lifestyle to this harried and hurried lifestyle?

The increased speed and efficiency of appliances, computers, and other machines have enabled us to accomplish much more than was possible in previous decades, in less time. But this efficiency has also fostered a desire to take on additional responsibilities with the extra time. We try to squeeze even more activities into already crammed calendars.

“Technology is increasing my heartbeat,” says Montreal lawyer Randy Pierre. Pierre works as a corporate lawyer and can be seen hunched over his blackberry as he leaves work at ten each evening, at the end of a 12 hour work day.

“We are inundated with information. The mind can’t handle it all. The pace is so fast now, I sometimes feel like a gunfighter dodging bullets.”

Working to acquire more possessions is another reason people keep busy. Producing and consuming more have become obsessions of the North American economy. Other values- strong families and communities, good health and a clean environment, active citizenship and social justice-are increasingly neglected.

“Since 1980 I have been soaring economically and sinking socially,” says Pierre.

The 52-year-old says it is like he has suddenly woken up. “The accumulation of materials never ends, and I think that the emptiness inside me will also never end” he says.

The biggest complaint of the hurried and harried is the “round-the-clock” availability cellphones, pagers and emails have brought to people’s lives. These devices allow for spillover between work life and home life.

Professor Noelle Chesley, an assistant professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, stated in a recent study that work and home life used to be separate, but now the line is blurred. The study found that people at home spent 2.4 hours on average talking on the phone or answering e-mails on work related issues.

Rehabilitated “speedaholic” Carl Honor

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