Back to work for a rest

Simon Coker 7th September 2022

    How are you framing time away from work this summer?

    After a three-week holiday travelling and adventuring with the family, I am ready to get back to work for a rest – for some routine and to recover some energy.  Furthermore, that’s how I think it should be.

    I contrast this with what I think is the more common narrative around time-off (and certainly what more Linkedin posts on the subject suggest), the comments along the lines of…

    Off for a week or two to disconnect/refresh/reset/relax”. 

    I wonder what that says about the stories we are telling ourselves about work and time off and the healthiness of that. Does it indicate something about how we are positioning and prioritising work and time away from it in our lives?  That is what I’d like to explore in this article.

    What are your big rocks?

    In Covey’s analogy for priorities, the most important things in life are the big rocks you put in the jar first.

    In “time-off is to reset and recharge”, is the insinuation that work is a higher priority and personal/family time is the way of preparing oneself for the all-important work?  Is work in service of personal or vice versa? 

    Please don’t misunderstand me, I enjoy my job and value the work I do, but I, like everyone else, am more than my work and my role in our organisation.  I am also a parent, partner and outdoorsy sports enthusiast, and between these inter-related and mutually constituted roles, there’s a complex dynamic.  If it were a binary choice, my preference would be doing what I love with the people who mean the most to me, however, we all understand that is not reality.  Work helps me play and play helps me work.  Beyond that functional level, involvement in work that has meaning and purpose for us is part of finding balance and fulfilment in our lives and if in that work we find applications for what we’re passionate about then that is, even more, the case.  Work is then part of our identity and priorities inevitably fluctuate over time, but there’s a balance to be aware of, aim for and act around.  This is what shows up in how we frame time off in that dynamic.

    Consequences

    The 2021 Global Workplace Report highlighted a globally increasing trend in workplace stress.  There are significant systemic factors that influence this, and I believe that organisations have the responsibility to create environments where their people can thrive and do their best work (for more read about the founding principles of Roffey Park).  However, at the same time, we are the individuals who make up the larger systems we are part of and therefore our behaviour has an influence on them.

    The way we think about our annual holiday is one thing, but what about the monthly and weekly routine throughout the year?  I wonder if a time-off-in-service-of-work balance narrative contributes to people being sucked into becoming overconsumed by work, not pushing back on workload and suffering the personal consequences of burnout etc. (despite which by the way, the organisational ship that we break ourselves for mostly sails merrily on unhindered into the sunset). 

    Rethink

    If we shifted our value balance around work and personal, would we be more inclined to shut the laptop at the end of a day and look forward to family time, or grab our coat on a Friday afternoon looking forward to a weekend of what makes us come alive and being our full selves?  If I do that, how would I feel as I check in on Monday morning?  Maybe a little tired out from being the other bits of me, but most likely looking forward to a week of serving the work bits of me, to enjoy the challenges that present themselves and with the resilience to absorb the bumps in the road.  Panning back even further we’re moving into consideration how we work in this day and age – are 5-day weeks the most personally and organisationally productive format?

    Of course, this isn’t just about ourselves.  As colleagues and leaders we influence those around us with our messaging and how we behave.  Positioning time away to be our full selves as a priority and following through on that clearly enhances people’s ability to contribute to the organisation’s goals and mission, particularly in the long-term sustainable way that we need them to.