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’You can hear your body scream for rest,’ say overworked Canadians struggling to beat inflation

Rafid Khan and Rebecca Gladney do not know each other, but they have a lot in common: they both work far more than the usual work hours to make ends meet.

Rafid Khan and Rebecca Gladney do not know each other, but they have a lot in common: they both work far more than the usual work hours to make ends meet.

Photo: (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC)

RCI

Neither Rebecca Gladney nor Rafid Khan has any spare time on most days of the week

This is Part 4 of The Grind (new window), a series from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador on people who are working multiple jobs to offset the rising cost of living. 

Rebecca Gladney settles down on a stool beside her massage table, lit by overhead fluorescent lights in a St. John's room not much bigger than a closet.

For once, she has an hour to spare.

When the CBC camera leaves, she'll set up for her next client, rearranging her office so she can perform the therapy that, for the last two years, has kept her afloat.

She's in a collared shirt, buttoned up and tucked in. But underneath the veneer of professionalism, she's barely holding it together.

I'm so tired. All the time, she said.

She described her commute from her full-time desk job in telecommunications to this small room, her second workspace. Working 9 to 5 in one office, she comes here, where she spends an additional 30 hours every week. She works nights and weekend in her other job.   

It's long after supper on a chilly November evening. Across town from where Gladney is earning extra cash to pay her bills, Rafid Khan has his nose buried in books.

He's just come from his full-time job with a non-profit organization, where he helps new Canadians settle into the rhythm of life in a new country.

Khan is also a full-time student, and his life is planned down to the minute. 

When he's not studying — usually until well past midnight — he's at a second job at a car rental company at St. John's International Airport, where he'll often work until the small hours of the morning. 

On those days, he might squeeze in three hours of sleep.

You can just hear your body scream for more rest, Khan said. 

WATCH | Rebecca Gladney and Rafid Khan are scheduled to the minute to pay the bills:

These workers are worked to the bone. Take a peek into their 70-hour work weeks

Rebecca Gladney and Rafid Khan are each working double-duty to pay the bills. Working two jobs most days, they have little time left for anything else in life.

An increasing trend, with serious risks

Gladney and Khan are among a growing number of Canadians who have to work a second job to tackle the increasing cost of living. According to a Statistics Canada report released in 2022, the proportion of workers in Canada who held more than one job was about 2.5 times the number recorded in 1976. 

Of the one million Canadians who currently have more than one job, one third now do so to pay for shelter, food and transportation, up from one fifth in 2019.

"Salaries have not increased at the same pace as the cost of living," said Karen Foster, a sociologist at Dalhousie University. 

"And so increasingly people are having difficulty making ends meet. Some people can absorb an increase because they are … typically spending money on more optional things that they can cut out. 

And other people who had very little buffer between their income and their fixed expenses are not making out as well.

That extra work — taken on not out of whim, but necessity — can have severe health consequences.

The evidence is overwhelming that when people are overworked in the best of times, it has a dramatic impact on mental health, on physical health, on likelihoods of suicide, said Walid Hejazi, an economist at the Rotman School of Management in Toronto.

But this is compounded when people are working extra hours not by choice.

A 2019 meta-analysis from the City University of Hong Kong found that overwork increases the risk of heart disease, diabetes, depression and anxiety, as well as encourages risky behaviours such as drinking, smoking and physical inactivity.

Lack of sleep, the authors found, was the primary aggravating factor for those outcomes.

But there's an economic argument against overwork, too, said Hejazi.

When an individual starts to work a large number of hours, they tend to become less productive per hour, which means they're losing their human capital, he said. 

"They're tired, their mental energy is elsewhere, their anxiety is high, so they put less effort into what I would call their main career.… It impacts the productivity of the companies they're working for. 

This trend is actually going to hurt the Canadian economy overall.

No time for living

Gladney didn't intend on having two full-time jobs. She took a telecommunications gig over the COVID-19 lockdown in Newfoundland that offered benefits, sick days and paid time off.

She's also a registered massage therapist, and she returned to those skills to deal with a serious problem that was weighing her down: her personal debt. 

Once we got back into the clinic, I realized that that was my way to eliminate my debt, she said.

Gladney has been doing this double-duty workload for 2½ years, often working seven days a week. She now marks Sunday as the day she will not work. 

But what started as a means of paying off debt turned into a necessity to keep afloat. Rising bills have eaten into the cash she had planned to use for debt reduction. 

Rebecca Gladney's small massage therapy office is modest, but it allows her to pay the bills. (Malone Mullin/CBC)Enlarge image (new window)

Rebecca Gladney's small massage therapy office is modest, but it allows her to pay the bills.

Photo:  (Malone Mullin/CBC)

Like Gladney, Khan works two jobs and lives within the confines of a masterfully scheduled calendar that requires him to manage two workloads while juggling a double-major education at Memorial University.

Khan moved to Canada from his home in Bangladesh in 2011. He came to St. John's in 2013. He later spent a year in Montreal, but was drawn east once more. 

Newfoundland is home, he said. It just kept on calling me back, and I was feeling too homesick. 

When he returned from Montreal at the beginning of this year, Newfoundland wasn't the home he remembered from his arrival. Tuition fees had tripled, rising from about $200 per course to $600. Today, his education costs around $8,000 a year. 

Rent, too, has skyrocketed in the Atlantic port city in recent months.

There was a time when you would still get rooms for $325, $500. Now there are two-bedroom apartments there for, like, 1,300 or 1,500 bucks, he said.

One job was not doing enough.

Very early days, late nights

Khan's day starts at dawn.  

If he has classes in the morning, he doesn't start work at the non-profit until 11 a.m., staying until about 7 p.m. After that, if he's not scheduled for his second job, he hunkers down at the campus library.

On those days, he sits among the book stacks, poring over legal texts, until it's time to catch the last bus on his route.

When he's scheduled at Enterprise, his shift ends around 2 a.m. — and that's if all the flights are on time. It's not uncommon for flights arriving at St. John's to land at later times.

Either way, Khan gets home at a very late hour.

You just can't [rest], he said. You just have to study and get the work done, because you got to make sure you have good grades and also be able to … take care of your expenses.

Like Gladney, Khan is almost always thinking about work. He's exhausted. But a second job is the only way he can pay for school, he said.

I don't have the words, he said, speaking to CBC News from an empty classroom on the university campus, struggling to describe the immense fatigue he's carrying.

It's either you're responsible to answer someone why you're late, or you missed 10 minutes of [making] money. It's not that it's a lot of money, but even these days … even a dime and a nickel helps. 

4-day working week: a solution? 

There's a growing movement designed to combat working lives like the ones Gladney and Khan lead: weeks that wear them emotionally thin, leave them tearful and sleep-deprived, and put their long-term health in peril.

The movement has evidence to back up its claims.

4 Day Week Global is a non-profit pilot project that proposes a four-day work week, rather than the standard five-day week. 

Wen Fan, a professor of sociology at Boston College, is assessing the results of that project, which partners with companies to implement a six-month trial of the new organizational structure. 

To her, the project indicates that a work model that puts employees first improves productivity. 

Rafid Khan burns the midnight oil almost every day - if he's not going to his second job, he's in the library studying. (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC)

Rafid Khan burns the midnight oil almost every day - if he's not going to his second job, he's in the library studying.

Photo:  (Chelsea Jacobs/CBC)

Based on, I mean, decades of social science research about our work hours and our well-being and health in general, I'm not surprised at all that our workers would suffer both in terms of their physical and mental well-being, she explained. 

And after looking at the ongoing results, she said, There is very clear evidence that workers have experienced a greater improvement in well-being. 

At the organizational level, Fan said, findings show that there is an increase in revenue, a reduction in worker turnover, and a decreased use of personal and sick days. 

The 4 Day Week Global website reports that 68 per cent of people involved in the project reported a reduction in burnout, 54 per cent reported an increase in their ability to work, and there was a 42 per cent decrease in employee resignations. They reported that 91 per cent of participating companies are opting to continue using the four-day week model. 

Their own stress, burnout, work, family conflict are reduced to a great extent. And at the same time, their mental and physical health improved tremendously.

Fan said workers are reporting that they have more time to spend on sleep and exercise. They have more time for self-care and to spend with their friends and family. 

But until more employers adopt a condensed work week, the ever-present spectre of shifts to attend is a burden Gladney and Khan carry constantly.

It's horrifying, said Gladney, as her eyes teared up. It's really upsetting. It's anxiety-inducing. Because what if one of those jobs went away?

Khan, too, wonders when it'll get better. So much worrying, he said. 

Going to bed with tears … almost every other day.

Sarah Antle  (new window)· CBC News

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