Personal and Social Wellbeing Meets Time Crunch

What happens when the bell rings?

As the clock struck midnight last night, a new report on the wellbeing of Canadians was released on, with some irony seeing that it was released when most should have been in bed asleep instead of reading new research, the impact of the ‘time crunch’ on their lives.

Yesterday I wrote on the same thing from the perspective of those in public health (i.e., the ones who develop reports like the one mentioned above). Irony, once again, makes an appearance.

The Canadian Index of Wellbeing (CIW) is described as:

“The CIW is based on the understanding that a true measure of national
wellbeing must link the economic, health, social, cultural, and environmental
realities of Canada, its people and the communities in which they live. By doing so, it can go beyond conventional silos and connect the dots among the many factors that shape our quality of life.

Before commenting on the report, I’d like to reflect on this mission. For starters, the CIW takes a systems thinking — or at least an ecological — perspective by overtly acknowledging the interconnectedness of various (largely social) determinants of health. It is also situates health in context, by placing it where people live their lives rather than in the abstract as many other reports do. The CIW also explicitly refers to ‘silos’, which upon further examination, acknowledges that health knowledge, practice, and policy is not the provenance of disciplines, experts or any particular groups working independent, but that it is more and that this knowledge must be connected to truly make sense of the whole.

In his preface to the report, the Chair of the CIW, Roy Romanow, writes:

Not so long ago we dared to imagine a shift to the leisure society – a world where robots lifted the burden of work, and prosperity
allowed more time for stimulating activities and fun.

Today’s reality is starkly different than yesterday’s dream. Technology does play a major role in our lives – for better and for worse – and it comes in a more sophisticated form than robots. Computers, Blackberries, iPhones, social networking…along with other transformational forces like globalization, climate change, new family structures…all have changed the way we live, work and play. They’ve also changed the way we interact – and the time we have to interact – with our families, friends, neighbours, work colleagues and communities.

He goes on to say:

(The CIW) finds Canadians caught in a time crunch, struggling to meet the competing demands of: a workplace that can reach out to them 24/7; children and parents who need a supportive environment; and their own needs to refresh body and mind through family time, leisure and culture activities.

Not surprisingly, the report has already received a lot of attention in news outlets across Canada.

Also not surprisingly, the report finds that single mothers are among the most affected by the time crunch, adding to their already significant physical and mental health risks and overall social burden or isolation. Yet our lifestyle is a thief that steals time from us all. Changing job roles and contexts, increasing expectations to be available to colleagues, globalized work patterns, absence of community supports such as child care options, and pressures associated with urban and rural environmental design all contribute to a society that resembles little of what we expected at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution.

This is a complex problem and requires not only systems thinking, but considerable systems action to address. Changing a job expectation does little if someone still has to drive 2.5 hours to get to and from work each day. Having a good daycare nearby isn’t going to do much to enhance the quality of life for a parent having to check her Blackberry for work the moment a child is dropped off or before they are picked up. And no amount of education is going to help if you don’t have the time to absorb the learning that comes with it.

One change will affect another, but only small, yet persistent, and widespread shifts will enable the critical mass of activity to promote the necessary social shift to wellness. Without systems thinking and action, this report is destined to serve as yet another thing we can’t absorb.

So take some time today, read the report, reflect on what small shifts you can do right now and what you can do tomorrow to carry the momentum. Perhaps if we all do that, share what we learn, coordinate a little, and start collaborating we might laugh at this report as much as we do at the 50’s depictions of 2010 filled with robots filling our lives with leisure opportunities.

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