BOSTON—According to a report released Monday by Boston University's School of Lifestyle Management, more than 180 trillion leisure hours were lost to work in 2004.
"The majority of American adults find work cutting into the middle of their days—exactly when leisure is most effective," said Adam Bernhardt, the Boston University sociology professor who headed the study. "The hours between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. are ideally suited to browsing stores, dozing in front of the television, and finishing the morning paper. Daytime hours are also the warmest and sunniest of the day, making them perfect for outdoor activities. Unfortunately, most Americans can't enjoy leisure during this time, for the simple reason that they're 'at work.'"
In addition to surveying 12,000 citizens nationwide, researchers studied data from seven different government agencies.
Deborah Kletter, an expert in the field of rest and relaxation, emphasized the pervasive nature of the problem, which she said affects 96 percent of employable Americans year-round.
"Week after week of potential relaxation time is squandered to jobs, with millions of would-be leisurers prohibited from sleeping in, working on hobbies, or taking trips," said Kletter, executive director of the Five-To-Nine Foundation. "An average employed person's ability to stroll aimlessly around his town and 'do whatever' is basically nonexistent 49 weeks out of the year."
Kletter said there is a vast disparity between the U.S. and Europe, where a strong leisure ethic is taught during youth.
"Americans simply can't keep up with the European leisure force," Kletter said. "In such fields as suntanning, skiing, and cooking elaborate meals that can be eaten over the course of an entire evening, Europe has us beat."
The report's internals reveal that full-time workers are hit hardest, with part-time workers coming in a close second, and freelancers marking a distant third.
"Ironically, the unemployed fared the best in this report," Kletter said. "One of the questions that remains unanswered, unfortunately, is how jobless citizens' high number of available leisure hours somehow fails to translate into overall happiness."
Bernhardt and Kletter found that employed persons do find one small but regular opportunity for leisure.
"In general, Saturdays and Sundays were unaffected by work," Kletter said. "Unfortunately, this fact does little more than underscore the fact that a serious problem exists five out of seven days of the week."
The loss of leisure-related revenue is another factor to consider, Kletter said.
"Leisure-time reduction is costing America billions of dollars in weekday concert-ticket revenue, airfare, and violin lessons," Kletter said. "I don't understand why the government hasn't already stepped in."
Kletter said that, "on the bright side," many Americans have learned to reclaim leisure time through aggressive multi-tasking.
"Americans have an impressive ability to do several things at once," said Kletter, who compiled the at-office leisure figures. "Enterprising workers managed to shop online, have long-distance telephone conversations with friends, and stare at their cubicle walls for hours. Those findings are very encouraging."
Bernhardt and Kletter acknowledged that their report was responsible for the loss of nearly 2,000 leisure hours.