The other day I sat down at the computer in my home office and found that I just couldn’t do any work.
I was exhausted. At first I thought I was getting sick. Then I realized that I hadn’t taken a
day off in more than six weeks. I wound up sleeping and watching videos all weekend to recover. Still, I felt a little twinge of guilt that my work wasn’t getting done even though years ago I had
decided to break from the workaholic behaviour that was driving my life.
Overwork is becoming a cultural norm and it’s bad for us. Non-standard jobs, self-employment, cutbacks, weakened labour standards, technology that permits us to work everywhere from the
car to the home, and the very male-defined norm that you have to work endless hours to be a success are all contributing.
A statistics Canada report from November 1999 says that one third of those aged 25 to 44 describe themselves as workaholics. Studies show that long work hours are a major contributor to
stress, depression, burnout and a variety of other illnesses. StatsCan data indicates those who switched to a workweek longer than 40 hours increased cigarette and alcohol consumption and
Irregular and long hours are stressful to families, too. A U.S. study shows that family breakup is three to eight times more likely in couples with children if one parent works nights or does shift
work. In Quebec, one parent works nights and weekends in more than half of families.
But we don’t just bring it on ourselves. In many of the fastest growing sectors, such as dot-coms, entertainment and business services, small firms demand long hours and pay scant attention to
Two years ago, Tara Cleveland, now 25, got a job as a Web page designer in a brand new dot-com business, so new that they were working out of the owner’s living room for a while. “I worked 40
hours a week but they wanted more. They expected us to stay late every night and on weekends, too. They were never prepared to pay overtime.” Cleveland, whose mother is a social activist,
refused the overtime and still kept the job. But “most kids don’t know what their rights are and they’re just grateful to have an interesting job,” notes Cleveland.
If working long hours makes us unhappy and unhealthy, why do we do it? Money is the obvious answer but, according to StatsCan, most of the one-fifth of Canadians who worked overtime during
the first quarter of 1997 did so for free.
Chris Schenk, research director of the Ontario Federation of Labour, says downsizing in the recession of the early 1990s meant fewer people had to do more work. “It became an expectation to
work long hours and take work home, even in the broader public sector,” he explains. Just ask nurses how their workload has increased.
Given these time stresses, you’d think that the length of a workweek would be a major issue in Canada, but it wasn’t even mentioned in the recent federal election. Quebec—where the reality of
women’s lives seems to get more attention—has just reduced its legal workweek from 44 hours to 40 hours, joining four other provinces with a 40-hour week. But Ontario is going in the opposite
direction with a proposal to extend the workweek to 60 hours if the employee and the employer agree.
In Europe, people want to live and work differently. France adopted a legal 35-hour workweek last February. Norway just added a fifth week of paid vacation, Denmark a sixth. Last spring, the
Netherlands passed a law permitting people who want to work a shorter week to request it from their employer, with the onus on the employer to explain why it couldn’t be implemented. The
same law permits part-time workers to request longer hours.
So what can we do about the situation at home? I’m going to start booking time off in my agenda. We can challenge the culture of overwork by refusing overtime whenever possible and refusing
to take work home. But individual action goes only so far. Women have to make overwork a major public policy issue. Let’s look to Europe for the example and start demanding that the culture
of work reflect the best interests of women and our families.
20 marks) 4. Examine the essay for evidence of underlying assumptions and for bias or prejudice. In a paragraph or two, discuss your findings and defend your position.
(20 marks) 5. Is the author guilty of fallacious reasoning? If so, write a paragraph or two in which you identify fallacies you have located and explain how they are used in the essay and what
impact they have on the position being presented. If you can find no evidence of fallacies, write a paragraph explaining why you believe the reasoning in the essay is sound and well founded.