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What price do we pay for convenience?

Last week, I noted with some chagrin that WordPress, the hosting company for this blog, announced that they are commencing 24-hour technical support. When I read the comments section on the WordPress blog, this is apparently a good thing in the eyes of WordPress users. Yeee-haw – there will be no more waiting until the next day to have your pressing WordPress questions answered. Thank God someone is keeping the world safe for democracy.

Okay – I’ll try to can the sarcasm, if for no other reason than I think that the “new and improved service” is probably well intentioned albeit poorly thought out. Obviously, WordPress is a company with a global audience and it doesn’t take too much to figure out that global means a 24-hr work day if you want to make it that way. I’ll give the management of WordPress full credit for taking pride in being consumer oriented and responsive to their customer needs.

Which more or less brings me to my point – needs. Does anyone really NEED to have 24 hr tech service support on their blog? I mean, really?

As a lifelong shift worker, I see this development as something other than a “good thing’. The fact of the matter is that shift work costs people in terms of their health and well-being. There’s plenty of clinical evidence out there indicating what is patented obvious to anyone who has worked shift work for an extended period of time. First of all, shift work basically buggers your circadian rhythms. As a group, shift workers suffer more from metabolic disorders, including obesity, than other workers. Independent of body weight, they appear to have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, increased risk of gastrointestinal problems, higher rates of depression, high risk of motor vehicle accidents and an increased likelihood of family problems, including divorce. Most shift workers are chronically sleep-deprived. They tend to sleep two to three hours less per day than non-shift workers. Chronic sleep deprivation plays havoc on the immune system, making shift workers more susceptible to infectious diseases.

None of this laundry list of bad things is ‘news’. We’ve known about the physiological effects of shift work on human health for a very long time. And it is understood from the get-go that there are some people who are just going to need to work shift work. Anyone involved in emergency services – police, fire, ambulance – are going to be doing graveyards. There’s a lot of other jobs where people NEED to be at work 24/7. The guys working in the control center of your local nuclear power plant would be a prime example of this and I’m sure each of you can come up with another 40 examples on your own.

But over the past 20 years, I’ve noticed a shift in the definition of NEED when it comes to shift work. Convenience store employees are now expected to work twenty-four hours in case someone needs an emergency Slushie™. If you have a Big Mac attack at 4 am, the folks at McDonald’s are working to deliver it. And, and, and, and bloody and. It’s non-stop. By days, I swear there are more people working shift work and so called ‘irregular hours’ than there is the “normal” 9-5 crowd. Culturally, the 24 hour work day is becoming the new normal.

And I know, someone right about now is going to pipe up about how some people prefer working nights. No kidding – I’m one of them. I just finished a voluntary rotation of 5 nights on a holiday weekend in August. Just because I like working nights should not be confused with the fact that it’s killing me in bits and pieces. Now, I’m one of those people with a job that demands 24 hour coverage. I’m a 9-1-1 operator and I’m sure it’s a point of universal agreement that when someone calls 9-1-1 at 4 am, there should be someone there to answer the phone. I’d like to add that I’m also extremely well paid for my efforts, I have excellent medical and other insurance benefits that I use to help rectify the mess I’m making of my body and I’m out with a 30 year pension at the age of 55.

The problem with this is the cost and I’m not talking about costs that show up on the profit-loss statements. I’m talking about the human costs that show up in business reports in the most tangential ways, like absenteeism and lower productivity. Shift work exacts a toll on individual human health. It impacts the health and well-being of our families. If one member of a family works shift work, the entire family is effectively working shift work. It impacts the health and welfare of our communities because shift workers are less likely to join community service groups, or volunteer with our churches, youth groups or charitable organizations. Shift work by its very nature is isolating and it fragments our communities and our society.

I thing we should start looking at what it is we think we NEED to have available on a 24 hour a day, 7 day a week basis. As a society, do we really NEED Slushies or Big Macs or stale donuts available every minute of the day? Do we NEED to have the shelves at Wal-Mart and the grocery store stocked overnight or could it be done during ‘business’ hours, like it was 30 years ago. Was there really that much of a consumer shopping experience by having someone restock the canned goods while the store was open? And while we’re at it, as a society do we NEED to subject some people to working shift work because we think we need to have our blog questions answered 24-7. I have to ask, what’s wrong with sending an email and getting an answer the next day, or two days hence? There’s no potential for loss of life or property damage if a question about margins goes unanswered for 48 or 72 hours. So why are these people being asked to risk their bodily health to answer questions of this nature? The cost of this service is too high a price and I think that should be something worthy of consideration in our ‘service oriented” society.

Thanks for reading and Namaste,



About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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