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I've discovered something strange in my area.

Most people dread rush hour. It's when everyone clocks out, disconnects, and heads home. When I first started with Budget five years ago, rush hour in my area (New Jersey) was roughly from 05:00PM-06:00PM, with the final bits of congestion thinning out by 07:00PM. How do I know this? I've done the same commute to and from work just about every day of those five years. Honestly, it was easy to tell.

But this has changed. The rush hour has started to begin at 04:00PM (not too long ago really), and often, runs late into 07:00PM. Heavy traffic and congestion around these times are inevitable, as everyone is starting to go home. But! I've noticed that rush hour is not only longer now, but more hazardous. People often hang in large clusters on the highway, put putting along. As I look into these vehicles, I see the same thing all the time:

Fatigue. Or stress. Think about it- I'm sure you've been stuck in rush hour traffic at least once in your life. Have you once seen a happy face? Or hell, an emotionally neutral one? People look hollow. Vacant. Drained. These people are just moving forward through time and space to their next destination, unthinking. Probably exhausted, too.

I suspect that rush hour has gotten longer for two reasons. One, we are working more. A shift in the rush hour time, especially the beginning, may indicate traffic from supplementary or odd-houred jobs (when compared to the usual 9-5). Approaching 05:00PM, traffic is almost stopped, crawling inch by agonizing inch toward home. It only gets worse as it gets later, which could indicate that people are working later now, leaving work later. Longer hours, multiple jobs.

Busy does not mean productive. People drive home on their cellphones, probably still connected to their job somehow. I've seen people drift to the side of the road and jerk back, implying driver fatigue. Car crashes, stupid mistakes, everything. We are too tried and we are trying to do too many things.

Think long and hard about what is slowly happening, and how we are moving forward. How long will an average work week, or a shift be in twenty years? What will be expected as “just part of the job?” Think about it.

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