A nation of stressed-out, time poor, lonely worker bees
The short-term fix of Olympic glory aside, Essential’s weekly poll suggests Australia is a pretty miserable place right now. We may be living in one of the most prosperous societies in history, but we aren’t happy with how our own lives are travelling.
The majority of us say we are either struggling or just coping financially; we are worried about losing our jobs and expect our personal situation to deteriorate over the next 12 months.
We actively dislike our elected leaders, both PM and Opposition are disapproved by about two thirds of us. We have have not only lost faith in government in most of our public institutions – the public service, the High Court, the Reserve Bank, business, unions, the media, even religion.
From border protection to climate change, we are becoming angry about just about everything, until we can’t remember what it is we are really angry about.
So what’s going on Australia? Here’s one theory: our problem is time, or the lack of it. We are so stretched and stressed that we just don’t have the time to keep our lives on track, let alone engage in a sensible national debate.
I tested this out in the latest Essential Report, asking people whether they have enough time for the basics in life. The findings make sobering reading,
If you are a little embarrassed to check the top of the kitchen cupboards, or have started turning a blind eye to that scum around the kitchen sink, you are not alone. Forty four per cent of us in paid work admit we no longer have the time to keep the house clean.
With longer working days, one third of us say we don’t have time to prepare meals - good news for the take-away industry - not so great for our diets. As for gardening and doing odd-jobs around the house, more than half of us have given up and are letting things slide.
Our relationships are also suffering from this time drought. Half of us say we don’t have the time to keep in touch with friends and relatives, with a similar number withdrawing from community activities. And if we have kids playing sport, nearly 40 per cent say we are missing out on this rite of passage,
And this is not just a matter of a lifestyle issue, a startling 58 per cent of workers agree with the statement “there are times when I feel the stress from juggling work and other responsibilities is impacting on my physical well-being.
Listen to ourselves. We are becoming a nation of stressed out, lonely worker bees, living in squalor, eating rubbish and driving ourselves towards a collective breakdown.
Adding to the misery is the reality that there is no easy fix to our collective plight – in fact many of the changes we embrace make matters worse.
Take technology. Now that we all have these fantastic smart phones and tablets we are connected 24/7. But those emails that once sat in the inbox till morning now appear urgent as they ping into our downtime.
For many of us, our workdays now seem to stretch into this new 24-hour cycle of tasks until we never really clock off. When business leaders call for more labour market flexibility, we wonder what it is they will try to squeeze out of us next – because there’s nothing left in the tank.
We chew up hours a day commuting to and from work – on either clogged roads or packed trains. We all agree on the need for better public transport and a more coherent planning policy for our cities, but because we are addicted to the idea of low taxes, state and federal government doesn’t have the funds to unclog our lives.
And if we are in a relationship, chances are both of us are in the paid workforce. That’s been the big shift in the past 40 years, except no one has worked out that if the blokes are still working long hours, this leaves a massive hole in the home.
Instead we are locked into an increasingly complex matrix of pick-ups and transfers of offspring as we try unsuccessfully to align the old school day into the modern workday.
It’s like we have snookered ourselves with our progress and our desire to have it all, and what’s emerging is a society that has too much of everything except the one thing it needs the most, a bit of time to get our stuff together.
Let’s hope we get a hit of the gold rush over the next couple of weeks, but when the Games are over we have some fundamental things to think about if we want to maintain the glow.
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