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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Time Both Free and Costly

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The pace of modern life is constantly increasing, and people are finding themselves with less and less free time. But this is happening at different rates in different countries. Russians, for example, are more concerned about lacking money than making free time.

The predictions made by the futurologists of the 1960s seem comical today. They thought that by the 21st century, the introduction of new timesaving technologies would lead to a significant reduction of the average workweek, six months of vacation per year and a boom in the amount of work done from home. Alvin Toffler, the author of the bestsellers "Future Shock" and "The Third Wave," predicted that special leisure consultants would be needed to help people cope with the extra time on their hands.

The forecasts have not become reality. Instead, polls and surveys repeatedly indicate that people feel they have too little time. Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire in Britain recently published a study of how quickly pedestrians move on sidewalks. He found that this indicator for the speed of urban life has risen by 10 percent over the last decade. How fast pedestrians walk, according to Wiseman, demonstrates how much they believe can be gained by hurrying. People slept an average of more than nine hours per day at the beginning of the last century, according to Russell Foster, a chronobiologist at Oxford University, and the figure was still more than eight hours in the 1960s. Today that figure is only about six hours.

For the Japanese fiscal year covering 2006 and 2007, according to the country's Health Ministry, 355 people fell ill or died from work-related exhaustion, an increase of almost 8 percent from the previous year.

A survey by Harris Interactive revealed that the main sources of stress for Americans were rising prices, too much work, a lack of free time and the fear that some unseen circumstance would leave them critically short of money.

In a new survey by pollster FOM, more than half (57 percent) of Russians say they have enough free time, and 4 percent even said they had too much.

Just 26 percent of respondents said they had too little free time, and a significant number of these were people with higher educations (36 percent), residents of large urban centers (35 percent), people with high incomes (32 percent), and those from 18 to 35 years of age (31 percent). A lack of free time is not a major problem for most Russians. Fifty percent of those surveyed said their main problem was a lack of money.

When the question is money, Russian attitudes are closer to those of people in developing nations than those in the developed world. Having too much free time is unusual. According to the International Labor Organization, a United Nations body, 22 percent of the world's work force puts in more than 48 hours per week on the job, with the majority of overtime registered in developed countries. Russia and Moldova, meanwhile, finished lowest in the report with regard to overtime worked. Just 3.2 percent of Russians work 50 or more hours per week.

The problem doesn't just arise from the difficulty of keeping track of overtime given the widespread presence of informal work arrangements or to the widespread use of cheap, temporary manual labor. The problem is that companies still aren't getting as much out of their labor pools as they might.

Even ignoring the fact that salaries have been rising faster than labor productivity --average salaries rose by 15.5 percent and labor productivity by just 7.8 percent over the first quarter of the year, according to data from the Economic Development and Trade Ministry -- the average Russian worker still offers a bigger return than his or her Western counterpart. Every additional dollar paid as labor compensation in Russia generates an increase in production worth of $2.60, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers, while the return in Europe is just $1.14.

This appeared as an editorial in Vedomosti.