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SOCIAL FABRIC

Burnt Out Britain: How we use and misuse our time, and why it matters

More people than ever are burnt out, but the common diagnosis is wrong and fails to address the causes of displaced days.
Jenevieve Treadwell
April 3, 2023
Burnt Out Britain: How we use and misuse our time, and why it matters

"Social connection is what makes a community stronger. But many of us feel too burnt out, tired and under pressure to participate in civic life. These symptoms are real, but our diagnosis is wrong. It's not as simple as overworking or getting too little sleep. But our days have become busier and the balance between different activities has been lost making us feel overwhelmed. We need to help people take back control of their time if we are to reweave the social fabric and revitalising civic life."

 

 

In a series of focus groups, Onward has found people still felt  “too busy” or “too knackered” to participate in leisure activities. Burnt Out Britain provides fresh analysis on our use of time and argues that these symptoms – tiredness, feeling overworked and feeling rushed – are real but the diagnosis is wrong. 

So why is Britain Burnt Out?

There are two problems. For most of us we are doing more and are chopping-and-changing between activities more frequently, making us feel overwhelmed. For example, people are doing the same number of activities on working days as people who aren’t working. But work can take up an average of 7 hours 14 minutes – or approximately 30% of the day.

But some groups are also having their time squeezed by work and personal commitments, like parents, part-time workers and night workers. 

Helping people take back control over their time is essential if we are give people time to connect and take part in civic life.

The new report argues that rapid shifting between activities is breaking down the distinction between the different types of time – creating a greater sense of pressure, as well as reducing the quality of activities. In 1974, the average man changed activity 18 times in the day, which almost doubled to 31 times in 2014, and women have seen an equivalent increase, from 23 to 37.

Debunking the myths

Who is really squeezed for time?

One, we are sleeping less.

People are not sleeping less, in fact many are sleeping more. On average, adults have increased their time sleeping by around 30 minutes a day over the last four decades.

Two, we are working more.

Overall people are not working significantly longer hours. Working time has actually decreased for men by 2%, with only a minor increase for women of 13%.

Three, we are more rushed than we used to be.

The share of people reporting that they are often rushed has fallen in the last two decades from 20% to 17%. But the share of people saying they almost never feel rushed has fallen too.

Part-timers

  • Part-time shifts last 34% longer than they used to – around an hour and a half more than in 1974. This is in contrast to men in full-time work, who have seen their hours remain stable.

Weekend workers

  • In 1974, a weekend worker could expect to work for just over five hours a day compared to around seven hours on a weekday. But in 2014, a weekend worker could expect to work for over six hours while weekday working time has remained the same.

Low-income women

  • Women are working more. But wealthier women are able to avoid working on unsociable days. Low-income women work more on weekends.

Parents

  • Mums and dads are spending over 80% more time with their kids than they did in 1974.

Debunking the myths

One, we are sleeping less.

People are not sleeping less, in fact many are sleeping more. On average, adults have increased their time sleeping by around 30 minutes a day over the last four decades.

Two, we are working more.

Overall people are not working significantly longer hours. Working time has actually decreased for men by 2%, with only a minor increase for women of 13%.

Three, we are more rushed than we used to be.

The share of people reporting that they are often rushed has fallen in the last two decades from 20% to 17%. But the share of people saying they almost never feel rushed has fallen too.

Who is really squeezed for time?

Part-timers

  • Part-time shifts last 34% longer than they used to – around an hour and a half more than in 1974. This is in contrast to men in full-time work, who have seen their hours remain stable.

Weekend workers

  • In 1974, a weekend worker could expect to work for just over five hours a day compared to around seven hours on a weekday. But in 2014, a weekend worker could expect to work for over six hours while weekday working time has remained the same.

Low-income women

  • Women are working more. But wealthier women are able to avoid working on unsociable days. Low-income women work more on weekends.

Parents

  • Mums and dads are spending over 80% more time with their kids than they did in 1974.

burnt-out-britain

Read more about Onward’s programme to repair the Social Fabric in all parts of Britain here.

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