Getting real about work and time

Much has been made of President Bush's "short" workweek - a healthy 50 hours or so, by most accounts.

We're meant to feel nostalgic, it seems, for the wired-for-speed work world of the 1990s. And to rue the return of grey suits - back from the 1950s to displace the creative tenacity sometimes linked to T-shirts and all-nighters.

But whether the hyperdrive of the New Economy had a work ethic to match is widely debated.

Old-style careerism - looked upon as stodgy when everybody was a "unit of one" bent on making a fortune job-hopping - is making a comeback. The prospect of putting in many years at one firm looks more attractive.

Yet a lot still rides on appearances. Ever come across the myth of indispensability? Adherents rarely take vacation, having persuaded themselves that their tasks can be done by no other.

Spinning-chair syndrome? The afflicted tailor their work hours to barely beat those of their manager, whose empty chair still turns slowly as workers flee for the day.

Should we care what gets cast as "the norm"? It can have impact.

The dual-career couple became so exalted during the 1980s and '90s, for example, that many women had to scale a Matterhorn of self-doubt if they decided to run a household and raise kids.

Those doubts may have grown when dual earners helped drive a ballooning real estate market that shut some single-earner families out of property once within reach.

Yet many slow-lane riders reap non-monetary rewards. They can also make the most of the culture of speed, taking advantage of the trend explored in our lead story: a boom in prepared food that's restaurant-caliber, affordable, and available, fast, at the local grocery.

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(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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