We Work Too Many Hours, and Get Called Lazy

Wages aren’t going up, the retirement age is, and our working hours are stealing our lives.

We have a serious problem with mental health in this country. From increasing zero hour contracts, to a collapsing NHS, to unaffordable housing – the factors putting stress upon our generation are endless. But one issue that seemingly has a fairly easy fix is the ridiculous hours people are expected to work.

You’ve surely heard the phrases “they’re working us to our graves” or “I’m entering the 9-5 grind”. When you’re a kid, it can go over your head. You have your own stress with exams, coursework and an education system that’s getting its funding cut left, right and centre. But when you start working, you realise how little time you’re given to de-stress, rest and have some fun.

Whatever humans were put on this Earth to do, it certainly wasn’t to sit at a desk for eight hours, five days a week. Or to serve arsey customers for hours on end in a shop, restaurant or bar. When you add commuting times, chores and any other responsibilities to this, it leaves very little time to rest, relax and have fun. We aren’t here simply to serve other humans. And quite frankly, we’re worth so much more and are capable of such much more.

Britain has some of the longest working hours in Europe. This attributes to extra stress felt from workers in the UK as opposed to other countries.

This, among other stress-related changes of the modern world is making every-day life even more difficult for young people. John Smith*, an Occupational Therapy Student at a London university shared his thoughts on the stress that is being placed upon young people.

“Stuff like the constant comparisons on Instagram and other social media platforms can cause anxiety,” Smith says. “As well as the system we live in where kids have no control over spiralling debt from education, and perhaps feel like they have no control over their future.”

“Kids have no control over spiralling debt from education, and perhaps feel like they have no control over their future”

As kids grow up into a world where jobs are scarce and they’re in a tonne of debt before they reach their mid 20’s, there’s a real temptation to take any job offering a decent wage. Yet, every potential job has a line of unemployed young people queuing up in the hope this will be the interview that results in finally being able to afford to move out of their parents’ house. Basically, if you don’t pick up the job quickly, if you need regular appointments with your doctor, if you live far out so sometimes you’re late, or even if you just get tired looking at a screen all day, there are thousands of people waiting to take over your role. And that’s where employers have more of a hold over their employees than ever before.

Smith believes there’s another factor to the mental health problem that’s ever-growing.

“We aren’t getting the required help or treatment due to poor mental health budgets and being rushed through care as there is an over subscription to the service,” he says.

Unfortunately, with a Conservative government, it’s extremely unlikely the budget for mental health services will ever get the support it needs. Tackling working hours though could be one step to alleviate the pressure on young people. Would changing the working hours in Britain be such a difficult task?

We all know that feeling – it gets to Sunday night, you still haven’t caught up on sleep, you’re knackered from trying to fit in everything you can’t do while working in the week, the realisation you have another five days of work coming up in the morning hits you, and you get the dreaded Sunday night blues. But, having an extra day off a week and working a four-day week instead of five could actually have huge benefits. Not only would workers feel more motivated after an extra day of rest, but chances are they wouldn’t feel so miserable and stressed at work. Monday morning would be less daunting if you only have four shifts until your next day off. Basically, a happier, more productive work-place.

So, why aren’t we doing it? Most countries in Europe offer shorter working hours, why can’t Britain? It’s not laziness. It’s about looking after our mental health. It’s about getting the most out of your workers, and it’s about giving people their lives back.

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity.

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