Here are four stories of the Nineties, once promised as the decade of leisure. They tell of lives ruled by work and they are not unusual. Ambition, modern management and a flood of anxieties have made overwork one of today's addictions. Overleaf, Polly T
The non-stop barrister

Jacques Algazy is 39. He is a barrister at chambers in London, specialising in commercial and European law. He lives in London with his wife, Lucy, and their six-month old daughter, Alexandra. Salary: undisclosed

I had wanted to be a barrister since I was about 17. Everyone said I was mad, that it would take forever to qualify, and I wouldn't have an ordinary life. It didn't take forever, I took off pretty quickly, in fact, but I don't have an ordinary life. I don't have a nine-to-five job. The whole difficulty of the Bar is that you have no control over your flow of work. We're all self-employed, so it's difficult to refuse work when it comes in. You may have three cases in at once, or have to do preparation for a deadline at the same time as being in court all day.

I'm an early riser, six, or earlier. I'm actually an insomniac, so I might wake up at 4am and go into the study and do some work. I'll get into chambers by 7.30am. And if I'm on a big case I might have to stay here and work late into the night, but other times I might get home early, about six or seven. The baby's always asleep when I get home. I don't get to bed until about one or two. That's not to say all barristers are like this, it's just how I am.

You absolutely have to work weekends, no doubt about it. Sundays are the busiest day here. I might get in at 9am and stay till 5pm. My working hours are difficult, particularly now the baby's arrived. My wife's just returned to work full-time, and recently we went for about three weeks before we realised we'd barely seen each other, and neither of us had seen much of the baby. So we sat down and said, "Hang on, this isn't working." I intend to make one day each weekend available. You have to try to aportion time for the family.

You can never do too much for a case. The public see you turn up at court at 10.30 and swan off at 4.30 and think that's your day's work, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. To be able to produce a seemingly casual but important question to a witness might be the result of hours of research.

People make this analogy between the Bar and the acting profession. I can't begin to see it, personally. You may both be in the public eye, but actors don't have to research and write their own lines, or make them up when they are standing on their feet. You have to be so quick. You may have prepared points A, B or C, but the judge may ask you about D, E or F. I've said it before, but you can never do enough work on a case. My biggest fear is to go into court unprepared.

I try to relax by watching television in bed, it has a sort of soporific effect on me. I don't even take it in. I need something to distract me, but it's very hard to turn off. You have to try to stop reviewing the day's work, thinking about the questions you asked, or didn't ask, or should have asked. The trouble is that you're trying to watch television and a thought drops into your mind. If it's important, I have to get out of bed and write it down, which wakes everyone up.

I don't think I could tone down the amount of work I do. You can't take anything for granted; you're only as good as the last case they saw you in. It's very hard to say no to work. Am I regarded as a worker? Yes, I think so. But I can't think of a single job I'd enjoy more

Not so much the work ethic, just too much work

The nasty 90s

by Polly Toynbee

Drunk on the heady fruits of the Eighties boom years, the economists and futurologists promised that the Nineties would be green and pleasant. Leisure would be the big issue, quality of life the goal, personal fulfilment and collective social concerns would make us better, nicer people. The fierce competitive individualism of the Eighties would end, and the greedy world of JR would give way to deeper, calmer things. Fat chance. The new technology that was supposed to set us free turns out to be the superhighway to mega-overwork, anytime, any place, by mobile fax or modem.

We work harder, we feel more stress about our work, we see less of our families and children, and as for leisure, forget it. The culture of management consultancy has entered our souls. This latest recession has shaken out the last vestiges of slack from factories and offices everywhere, and that shake-out has shaken us to the core, frightened us with waves of redundancies and short-term contracts. When the Government wonders where the feelgood factor went, so do we.

Up to our necks in negative equity, locked into a housing market that we fear now makes us poor, not rich, the middle classes, which is most of us, feel oppressed, uncertain and unhappy. The professional and managerial classes are the most stressed. Two-earner, two-car, high-flying families trying to pay for a nanny, school fees and soaring university costs are on the increase. Unease about the adequacy of pensions or the NHS means more people are reaching into their pockets to pay for private insurances of various kinds. Disposable income never feels very disposable and large salaries don't compensate for lack of time. Small gobbets of quality time with the children don't feel like any substitute for the golden afternoons in the park we think we remember from our childhoods.

Are we just spoilt and grasping? Who needs all this stuff anyway? What about escape from the treadmill to a simpler life? Behind each tired early morning face in the Tube there lurks a vision of a better way: that cottage with a cabbage patch and an apple tree, the village school and the larder full of home-made jam and bottled plums, the smell of baking bread and some easier, less demanding (as yet unspecified) work at half the pay.

We are not a very happy nation. We work longer hours than in any other EC country, on average 44 hours a week. Sixty per cent of men work more than 40 hours, whereas in the rest of Europe fewer than half work that long, a third of British women work more than 40 hours, while only 14 per cent of the women in the rest of Europe work so long. This hard work is unrewarded by better perks. We have less childcare, worse maternity leave, less than the EC average spent on social security and state insurance, and lower GDP.

Virtually everyone I know works harder than they did 15 years ago. The young setting out on their careers work far harder than I did at their age. Everyone has less time for everything, for friends, for anything but work and family, a recipe for growing isolation and alienation.

But, we do seem to like work as well as hate it. Fantasies about "What I'll Do When I Win the Lottery" notwithstanding, according to the latest British Social Attitudes survey, more people than ever (74 per cent) say they would still work at a paid job even if they had enough money without. Asked about attitudes to their job, only 36 per cent said it was just a way of earning a living, while 64 per cent said it meant much more to them than that. Fifty-two per cent said, "I do the best I can, even if it interferes with my life." There was, not surprisingly, a marked difference here between professional/managerial people, who gave a 72 per cent positive response, and the unskilled, who gave only a 43 per cent positive answer though even that seems high if you are only pushing a broom or saying "Have a nice a day." Women's commitment to their job is even higher than men's, even though they are mainly in duller jobs.

So there is an inbuilt tendency among most of us to try to do our best, to work ourselves hard. However, a declining number of people, only 26 per cent, think their workplace is very well managed. So all those tough managerial initiatives of the past decade have failed to impress the workforce. But, none the less, people are more committed than ever to their work.

Is that through fear? Or is it because we are watching a growing epidemic of addiction to work, especially in the upper echelons? With no noticeable economic benefit to the country, we are working like maniacs, harder than our successful European rivals, and it is taking over our lives. Since the turn of the century, the story of working hours has been one of a steady and decent reduction. This stopped in the early Seventies, and, during the Eighties, the managerial/ professional group, who now form a third of the workforce, actually added two more hours to their working week in unpaid overtime.

The effect of this has been unemployment. If working hours had continued to decline after 1975 at the same steady rate as they did during the rest of the century, then the average week would now be between 34 and 36 hours. Taking account of various other changes, especially in technology, that would mean the creation of an extra one million full-time jobs. It would mean, of course, that those in work would have to accept less pay. But job sharing in this way might be regarded as just another more satisfactory form of income tax, with gains all round.

Those who work hardest, those in the top brackets, are keenest to cut their working hours. Most of those working more than 45 hours actually work well over 50. Why? Because the culture of the high-achieving workplace demands it. As you move up the ladder you have to justify your position and delegation seems dangerous. In the thin air at the top, people become light-headed and they start to believe in their own divine indispensability.

The EC is trying to bring in a 48-hour maximum working week for all. The Government is resisting it fiercely. Ministers, after all, work much longer hours, and where would we be if they didn't? (Where indeed?) But since most people working these preposterous hours are not paid for the extra time, or are self-employed, it would be difficult to regulate. How do you stop the barrister studying his brief, the journalist writing an article, or the window cleaner doing his tax returns?

However, like much legislation, it would act as a beacon indicating that overwork is undesirable and might help to break this vicious upward spiral of workomania. After all, what is it all for? What is work, politics and the whole economy for if not to try to make more people happier? Money isn't the ultimate object, contentment is. Somewhere in the past 20 years, we have lost the balance between the getting of money and the spending of time

Professeur sans frontieres

Meryl Davies is 39. She is one of the deputy heads of a large grant-maintained comprehensive secondary school in south London. She lives in southeast London with her partner, Andy, and their three-year-old son, Hugh. She is eight months pregnant. Salary: pounds 32,000

I get up before everyone else and leave the house at 7.15, so Andy gets Hugh up and gives him his breakfast. It takes me an hour to drive to the school. I'm at work until 6pm most days. That is if I don't have a meeting. I have regular meetings about twice a week, which might last until about 10pm. I'd like to be able to leave earlier, but there is so much admin that I have to try and clear my desk every night, or I get snowed under. Then there are the school functions - plays, jazz evenings - which I try to attend.

We have a live-in au pair, but my hours do present problems. Andy often works away, so we have to have contingency plans for Hugh.

He goes to two very good nurseries, one from Monday to Wednesday, which our au pair takes him to, and one on Thursdays and Fridays, which is near the school, so he gets up with me and I drive him in. That's when we have some time with each other, talking in the car on the way to the nursery. He's there all day, and I pick him up at six.

It was a nightmare when I went back to work after having Hugh. He refused to drink out of a bottle, so I had to find a child-minder who was two minutes away from the school and rush out and breastfeed him in the lunch hour. This next one is going to have expressed breast milk in a bottle from day one.

I teach French, but I teach fewer hours than a classroom teacher, so marking and preparation for lessons are minimised. I still have masses of paper work to do. Part of my role is to manage development, for which I have a budget of pounds 50,000. At the end of every financial year, I have to do an audit showing how that money has been spent, and predict next year's needs. There's never a time when my work is completed.

I take Friday nights off. The idea is that Andy and I go out, to the cinema or to see friends; but usually, well, I sort of collapse on the sofa. I've lost touch with many of my old friends. We have Saturdays to do family things together. On Sunday afternoons or evenings, I have to work. I'd like to spend the whole day pottering, but I always have to work. I don't know any teacher who enjoys Sundays.

I don't think I could do what I do without having a very strong partnership; Andy has responsibilities for Hugh; he has more quality time with him. I may be at home more, but I'm not necessarily available all the time. Sometimes, I think Hugh prefers Andy to me!

My decision to have children late was a deliberate one. As a woman, if you are ambitious and want to take on management responsibilities within education, you have to establish yourself. I've no regrets at all. I'm going to work right up till the next baby's due, which means I'll see the Fifth years through their exams. Then I'll be off in the school holidays and go back in October.

I do get emotionally worn out by my work, but I'm never bored by any day. There might come a time when I'm too tired to go on, and decide to move out to the country and grow vegetables. But at the moment, I feel I still have things to offer. I get satisfaction from the work I do. I am concerned I'm not spending enough time with my young son, but I think it's important that women are able to have a family and a career. A role model for others, if you like

The managing director and his wife

Simon and Lizzie Clothier and their two children, Harriet, 8, and Edward, 5, live in Boston Spa, West Yorkshire. Simon is managing director of industrial engineering consultants Hagen & Co. Salary: pounds 60,000 basic. Lizzie gave up her job as a senior executive at Burton Group two years ago. They are both 37


For me, it's quite simple. I can either do a boring nine-to-five job and LIzzie will have me to wrestle with, being dissatisfied and unfulfilled; or I can do something I passionately believe in and have always wanted to do. The idea behind Hagen is very simple. We enable companies to improve on the world's best manufacturing methods; we work with Heinz, Bass, BAA, Unilever, Nestle, oh, everyone. It is such a simple idea.

All my mental energy goes into the business; when I turn on the light in the morning, at six, or four, or whenever I get up, I'm immediately thinking of the latest set of issues. It literally takes my brain over. During the week, I have meetings all over the country on site. I am never late for a meeting. I have never been late for a client.

When I'm away on site, there's no point thinking about home. I'll always call home before bedtime and speak to the kids; but Lizzie doesn't call me up on site and ask when I'm coming home. I'd simply say, "I'm working and I'm busy." It's a fact. When I'm at work, I'm at work. Could I work fewer hours? Ideally, I suppose yes, but you know how it is. I don't want to sound missionary about it, but the company offers something which is quite revolutionary.

The family won't see me this week, but they know that's how it is sometimes. I never talk over my work with Lizzie - when I'm at home with the kids, I want to relax. She cares about the company, but she knows it's better for me not to talk about it and she can't keep apace of all the developments.

She's brilliant, though. She ran a three-million-square-foot operation for Burton's, and organised the complete running of it. So she does the weekly routines of the house. The bills, all the accounts, and so on. At the moment, we have the builders in and she's organised all of that. It's good, I think it stretches her. Anyway, at the moment, I think she's living the life of Riley. Sitting in a lovely part of Yorkshire, riding, walking, being with the kids. Great.

I think my friends from university were always confident that Clothier would be successful. I don't know quite what they thought I was going to do, but they expected great things from me


If he's working locally, Simon will be gone by 8 in the morning, and not back before 7. That happens about two days a week. The other three, he's usually away, on site with a client. He might leave at about 6am, and he'll stay away overnight, or more likely two nights. I never know which days he'll be away, so I get into a routine with the kids without him. We do a lot together after school, swimming, gym and football, things like that. If Simon's away, I'll cook and eat with the children.

I'm very involved with the village; I'm on the PTA at the children's school and I'm quite involved with what's going on there. I also do charity things locally, like Riding for the Disabled. I feel quite sorry for Simon, because he misses out on the social life around here. I know many more people in the village than him, because he often has to cancel social engagements. If we're invited to a party and he can't go, I just hire a babysitter and go on my own. Lots of my friends here have husbands who work long hours as well, and we all get together.

I've always had a commitment to his business. We're both behind it and it's a success, which means that on his time off we can afford to do the things we want to do. The children accept that Daddy's often very tired, but that his work means we go on nice holidays.

If the kids are ill or something, I have to look after them. I couldn't have a full-time job as well as doing all that. I do everything here. All the accounts, the house, all the bills, all the cooking and shopping. I try to be positive. The way I think about it, this is my time at home with the kids, and I'm not going to moan about it. And they love having Mummy pick them up from school. Hopefully, my working career's not finished, but at the moment I'm putting my energies behind Hagen.

Yes, of course, you can get to the stage when you think, "What did I do today of note?", and you can feel that what you've achieved isn't very much, but I just go for a good long walk or a ride, and think about the positive things. And I read the papers and watch documentaries, and find interesting things to talk about when he does come home. By about seven or eight o'clock, you feel it would be nice to have a conversation with another adult

The refusenik

Annie Harper is 24. Having gained a First in Anthropology at the LSE, she is about to leave Britain to work for a year for the Aga Rural Support Programme in north Pakistan. Salary: pounds 300 per month

A number of friends of mine have gone into the City, or into industry. I think it's a very good career, and you make loads of money, but I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't be prepared to wear those awful clothes, or work those hours, or sit in an office all day. And being a woman in that sort of world, I couldn't bear it. All for money. I couldn't do it.

I've worked in Pakistan twice now, so I'm familiar with it and I speak Urdu. I'm going to work for the Aga Rural Support Programme, which operates in isolated mountain areas, and basically tries to improve the conditions of rural people living there. It organises the villagers into groups, gives them small loans, and helps them build irrigation and set up enterprise areas. I'm going to work with the women in the area, working out how the programme can better their needs and their potential.

Friends of mine who do work in the City, earning fortunes, are actually fairly envious. They all say, "Oh, I wish I could do that," and then say they are planning to go off after five years of work, trekking in India, and things like that. I don't think they will. It's very hard to give up work once you're in a well-paid job. I don't want to be like that, I never want to be the sort of person who thinks, "God, I wish I had gone off and worked for a development organisation," and didn't. I'd far rather do what I'm doing, although I'm earning no money. I don't condemn my friends who do it, but it would be hard for me to reconcile my beliefs.

What will I do when I get back? I'm not sure. An MA, or a PhD. Or work for Amnesty International. I'd like to do something which helps other people, which helps society in a way. I have to feel I have some sense of working for the good of other people. I don't want to be a nurse or a nun, but I'd like to do something which improves things a bit. I'd be totally miserable simply to be earning money. I don't even see people being happy when they have made all their money and can retire at 40 or whatever.

When I'm in England, my time is so full that I'd hate to be in an office all five days a week and in the evening. There are other things - quiet times and solitude, and walking in the country, and being with my friends and family. I appreciate knowing people well, because I've made an effort to stay in touch with people. I have a circle who know me well, and to whom I can turn. I'd hate only to have two weeks a year when I could do that. I spend a lot of time with my mother and sisters and their children. They are more than just my family, they're my friends. My friends in the City have stopped seeing how anyone else lives, they just live in their offices.

I admire doctors and lawyers immensely, but I know I wouldn't be prepared to do those long hours. I want to do things like going to the cinema, going to the park with my nieces and nephews, sitting in my room sewing, having time to contemplate things. In Pakistan, I work long hours, but I can do that because my friends and family aren't there.

I'm scared about going to Pakistan, but I never want the sadness of regretting not having taken the opportunity of doing something important with my life