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Don't work too hard

Tag Goulet -- Imagine working four hours a day, nine months a year, and earning all the money you need to do exactly what you want with your free time.

That's how the average worker should be living now, according to predictions made a century ago. Despite the introduction of many labor-saving devices in the workplace and home, however, things haven't really changed. Harvard economist Juliet Schor found, by the 1990s, that people were working one month more each year than they did 50 years ago.

As Schor explains in her book, Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, the introduction of automatic washers and dryers simply resulted in an increase in time spent doing laundry. Laundry that had previously been sent out now stayed home, and standards of cleanliness went up.

Whenever a new labor-saving product is developed, we use it so much that our workload actually increases.

In fact, it seems that whenever a new "labor-saving" product or service is developed, we use it so much that our workload actually increases. After all, wasn't work supposed to be made easier by voicemail, fax machines, cell phones, and e-mail? On the contrary, many of us find we are constantly on call, frequently interrupted, and overwhelmed with communications. And our already-heavy workload hasn't diminished.

For an employee or student, the consequences of this overload can be stress, burnout, and illness. For an employer, it can result in high turnover and poor performance.

Next up: Solving the problem of overwork may help companies retain good employees.

© 2003

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