Impact of time pressure on lifestyle

Having to combine a paid job with rearing children, keeping up with hobbies and coping with domestic tasks can result in many people feeling frustrated due to a lack of time. Being too busy to do things well can also give rise to a sense of dissatisfaction. A research study has investigated job-related and other factors that cause people to experience time pressure. One of its conclusions is that professional and managerial staff experience greater feelings of time pressure than other occupational groups.

In his doctoral thesis, Maarten Moens, a sociologist of the Free University of Brussels (Vrije universiteit Brussel, VUB), investigated peoples’s perceptions of time pressure and the causes. He defines time pressure as the feeling of having too little time to do what one has to or wants to do. The empirical basis of the research findings is Flemish time budget data, collected using a diary method, and combined with a survey questionnaire. A representative sample of 1,553 Flemish people recorded how much time their different daily activities required. The respondents were also asked about their experiences of time.

Determinants of time pressure

Based on the data, Moens concluded that time use is linked to the feeling of time pressure. In today’s organisation of work, more people are given higher job task autonomy. They have to plan their work by themselves to a greater degree and, to a certain extent, have to decide individually when the work is done. People, especially high-skilled workers, also tend to identify themselves more closely with their job and hence end up working longer hours (AT0412NU01). Moens illustrates that these longer working hours are associated with an increased feeling of time pressure. The study highlighted some additional work-related factors, such as irregular working hours, taking work home, working in the evening or at the weekend.

Figure 1: Percentage of workers (employees and self-employed people) per hour working on a weekday, Saturday and Sunday (18 to 64 year olds)

Percentage of workers (employees and self-employed people) per hour working on a weekday, Saturday and Sunday

Source: Time Budget Survey TOR 1999 Diaries

In general, Moens concludes that the following working time aspects increase the feeling of being under time pressure:

  • working at a time when other people normally do not work (evenings or weekends) and when it would be possible to engage in social activities with these people;
  • difficulties in planning activities with people as a result of irregular, flexible working hours.
Table 1: Types of work schedule (18 to 64 year olds)
Types of work schedule (18 to 64 year olds)
Work schedule   %
Regular   76.1%
Shift work   10.4%
  Two-shift system 6.4%
  Semi-continuous shift system 2.6%
  Fully continuous shift system 1.4%
Irregular   13.0%
  On-call contracts 0.6%
  Period of work/period of no work 2.3%
  No schedule/changing hours 10.1%
Other   0.5%

Examples of ‘other’: working one day, not the next; sporadic night shift; changing between shift work and regular schedule; working 10 consecutive days followed by four days off; working every morning and every night.

Source: Time Budget Survey TOR 1999

However, the author emphasises that work-related time constraints are not the only factors resulting in a feeling of time pressure. Lifestyle and image in a person’s peer group also play a role. ‘To be busy’ and ‘to have no time’ have become typical of the lifestyle of higher occupational groups (manager, professional, or self-employed person) (FI0407NU05). Not finding the time to do everything one wants to do also relates to the goals people set themselves. These life objectives tend to be more ambitious and more varied for high-skilled persons who are often keen to develop their social and cultural capital to a greater extent. As a result, there is a higher probability that these people will overload their daily time schedule.

High risk groups

Attempting to combine different aspects of life can upset the time pattern of many people. Women, in particular, experience a higher level of time pressure because of these combined challenges. While they now participate more in the labour market than previously, they are often unable to get a break from their domestic and childcare tasks. On average, women spend three to four hours per week more than their male partners in the cycle of paid work, housekeeping and childcare. On average, men have longer working hours, but they are still far less involved in the household tasks. Other social groups with a higher risk of time pressure are two-wage earner households and working single parents.

Table 2: Average workload (paid and non-paid work), by sex and labour market position, hours and minutes per week
Average workload (paid and non-paid work), by sex and labour market position, hours and minutes per week
  Paid work Housekeeping Childcare Total
Full-time working man 42:30 12:31 2:08 57:10
Full-time working woman 37:52 18:53 3:37 60:22
Part-time working man 36:23 10:08 1:01 47:33
Part-time working woman 23:04 28:17 5:30 56:52
Man with no paid work 2:37 19:37 1:17 23:32
Woman with no paid work 1:11 33:52 5:24 40:27

Source: Time Budget Survey TOR 1999 Diaries

Making choices

The study concludes that people have to make choices in order to counteract the sense of time pressure. It is possible to find immediate practical solutions: use time management methods, outsource domestic tasks, or look for mechanical ways of saving time (for example, buy a dishwashing machine). However, people need to assess their overall use of time and make deliberate lifestyle choices. Otherwise, they will continue to overload the free time gained with other activities and engagements.

Guy Van Gyes, HIVA, KU Leuven

Further information

For further information (in Dutch) on the time budget and survey data used by Moens in his analysis, see the following publications (the time budget survey was replicated in 2004):

Glorieux, I., Coppens, K., Koelet, S., Moens, M. and Vandeweyer, J., Vlaanderen in uren en minuten. De tijdsbesteding van de Vlamingen in 480 tabellen [Flanders in hours and minutes. How Flemish people spend their time, in 480 tables], VUB Press, Brussels, 2002 (CD-ROM).

Glorieux, I., Koelet, S. and Moens, M., Technisch verslag bij de tijdsbudgetenquête TOR 1999 [Technical report on the time budget survey TOR 1999], Onderzoeksgroep TOR, Sociology Department, Free University of Brussels, 2000.

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