When God made time, he made plenty of it

Patricia Feehily


Patricia Feehily

When God made time, he made plenty of it

Patricia claims that in an effort to save every second of the working day, some employers are going through extraordinary measures to monitor employees

HOW did we come to this sorry pass in the first place and what happened to our once cherished laid-back image and lifestyle that, in my day, was one of the seven wonders of the civilised world?

I read in a newspaper at the weekend that business leaders have a new worry on their hands now – the amount of time workers waste waiting for a lift to take them up to their offices. It’s not that the lifts are malfunctioning or that the workers are up to some hanky-panky inside: it’s just that it takes 60 seconds for one to arrive, when, ideally, it should take only 25 seconds.

The dreadful result, according to one building consultant, is that workers in multi-storey office blocks, who move constantly from office to office, can waste 15 minutes a day waiting for a lift, and that, in a large company, can add up to 400 lost hours a week.

Oh God! I often spent 15 minutes a day, day-dreaming at my desk, and it didn’t cost the company a penny. I did twice as much work when I woke up, they’ll be glad to hear.

Of course, I never did have the luxury of a lift during my working life, and it was just as well as I have a serious phobia about lifts. I must have been stuck in one for days in an earlier life, because I have recurring nightmares of suffocating in a lift. I never reach the top now, or the bottom, in a lift – without saying halleluiah, and I seldom listen to the lift door closing behind me without uttering a silent prayer that there isn’t a bit of me still stuck inside. Sometimes, it takes me ages to reach the right floor because I press the wrong button and keep going up and down until the vertigo kicks in, and inevitably I have to get out and take the stairs, hoping that I haven’t been caught on camera.

I went to the top of Sears Tower in Chicago once in a lift and I don’t even remember coming down, but I can’t have fallen off.

But enough about the lifts! What really bugs me is this miserable new attitude to the working day, where soon, if we’re all not careful, they’ll be glueing our eyelids open after counting the minutes lost in a single day by blinking. Or Luas drivers will have to carry pampers with them because they’ll have forfeited their right to a toilet break over their stroppiness.

All this time monitoring can’t be good for the soul, not to talk of the body. Who, with even an ounce of ambition, will now stand patiently waiting for a lift without kicking the door in frustration, or bounding up the stairs, popping heart pills, while counting the minutes gained, especially after this latest revelation?

It certainly is an alien world to the one I once knew, and the maddening thing is that most people nowadays wouldn’t even remember a time when we took our ease, with all the time in the world at our disposal and without an apology to anyone. “The man who made time, made plenty of it,” was the usual rejoinder when someone had the temerity to tell us to hurry up.

Even those of us who are old enough to remember those unhurried days are in denial now, claiming that we were always workaholics and insisting that wasting time was anathema to our very nature.

“We worked every hour that God gave us,” a contemporary of my own insisted in outrage, when I dared to recall the leisurely way we once lived our lives and how we used to laugh at the Germans and the Americans who were working themselves to the bone. Well, not exactly to the bone, because it was also a source of wonder to us then how people, who worked so hard and who put in such long hours, could also be carrying so much weight. Now we know. They spent too much time waiting for the lift.

Anyhow you’ll be glad to hear that I restrained myself admirably from reminding my friend with the selective amnesia, that she was the one who came back from London after just two weeks in exile when she was 22 in 1970, because she couldn’t keep up with the pace of life there.

What happened to our laid–back image I don’t know, but obviously it fell foul of progress and the notion of productivity introduced by our latest colonists – the multi-nationals. The Vikings undermined our pastoral inclinations and the English demolished our aristocratic ambitions. It took the multi-nationals to scuttle our leisureliness, and by all accounts we should be eternally grateful to them.

In any case, there’s no point in lamenting it now, because, unless we’re colonised again by some long lost tribe from the most remote island of Tristan da Cunha who have still to discover the wheel, we can never hope to re-capture it. Something in our DNA has been irrevocably reset, and I don’t even know when it happened. One day we were working 9.30 to 5.30 in the office and next day we started at 8 and stayed until 10, and I don’t remember anyone asking us to put in the extra hours. All I know is that we took it on ourselves and that it is high treason now to even suggest that we might have been better off when our work/life balance was the envy of the world.

But will we really be asked to run up and down the stairs at work to save the time spent waiting for a lift? Why can’t they invent a better lift and take the time saving onus off the worker for a change?