Whether you’re self-employed or an employee, having a strong work ethic is generally considered a good thing; something to be proud of, or aspire to. If you put ‘work ethic’ into Google, hundreds of blog posts and articles come up extolling the virtues of a good work ethic, claiming it to be the number one trait employers value in their employees, and explaining how you can develop and demonstrate your strong work ethic.
But, too often, having a good work ethic can morph into an unhealthy obsession with the hours spent working, rather than an individual’s output. As a result, those doing their job within the allocated time for their role and not sacrificing other commitments or working overtime can come to be seen as ‘doing the bare minimum’. Instead of respecting an employee’s boundaries and honouring their free time, we value their sacrifice and we call it a ‘good work ethic’. But how can we shift the balance back and reduce the negative impact of this?
‘Rest ethic’ could be the answer.
A Strong Work Ethic Alone Can Lead to Burn Out
In these technologically-advanced times, burn out has become commonplace, as the lines continue to blur between our work and our personal lives. With access to work emails and apps on our smart phones at all hours of the day and night, and the overwhelming pressure to prove that we’re working hard and not slacking off despite being at home, it has been easy to overwork ourselves during lockdown. The separation between work and home life has been eroded and it has lead to a rise in stress, anxiety and depression. Particularly when coupled with the huge drop in social interaction that came with not being able to see our friends and family for months.
Presenteeism has been replaced with visible busyness, now that our colleagues can’t see us sitting at our desks every day we’ve replaced that visibility with constant communication via email, Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and even WhatsApp. We’re producing even more work than we were before, because without a commute it’s all too easy to sit down at our laptops at 8am and work straight through until 8pm without a real break. Heaven forbid our bosses think we’re not working hard enough now that they can’t physically see us doing it. Never mind the fact that many people are even more productive at home than in an office environment where constant distractions from coworkers can disrupt our flow.
What is a ‘Rest Ethic’?
You’ve probably heard the phrase ‘work hard, play hard’ – well it’s a similar principle. Except, instead of hard, it’s ‘smart’.
Rest promotes recovery, inspiration, and new ideas. Rest doesn’t just mean having a lie in, a long hot bath, or binge watching Netflix – although it can incorporate all of those things. Resting well is a skill that can be learned and developed, and will ultimately benefit your work ethic by inspiring creativity, passion and enthusiasm. If you’re burnt out and stressed, these are the first things to go.
One key element to creativity and ideation is boredom – a concept that is somewhat lacking these days, with our constant access to entertainment and our relentless need for consumption. Boredom allows the mind to wander, and you’ll usually find that any problem or question can be solved with a little quiet time alone with your own thoughts. You don’t have to physically do nothing, in fact some of the best ideas come whilst we’re completing menial tasks – cooking, doing dishes, working out or going for a walk in nature (without headphones!).
The popularity of mindfulness is closely connected to this. Sales of adult colouring books and jigsaw puzzles have skyrocketed in recent years, as we’ve been on the hunt for a mindless activity that will let us keep our restless hands moving while our minds wander freely. Meditation apps are also a favourite of mindfulness fans, allowing us to train our busy minds to be quiet and banish our daily worries, reducing stress and anxiety.
How Do You Develop a Good Rest Ethic?
The biggest hurdle to creating a strong rest ethic that balances out your work ethic is guilt. We have been trained by society to believe that our value stems from productivity, that we’re worthy as long as we’re creating something, offering something to our fellow humans. This could not be further from the truth, and is the root of many mental health problems, and one of the main issues therapists work with their clients to reframe.
Our worth is intrinsic, and we don’t have to ‘earn’ a rest by working ourselves half to death before taking one.
We are humans, not machines that can continue to create outputs ad infinitum with no input. In order to refill the well we must rest and recover.
So first of all, shake off any sense of guilt at taking breaks and spending time doing what you enjoy, consuming content that has been produced by others, and letting your ideas percolate. Journaling can be an excellent way to not only get any worries or concerns out of your mind and onto paper (where almost invariably they feel less huge and scary), but also to get your creative juices flowing and help you process your thoughts and spark ideas.
Unplugging has become a huge trend in the self-care arena, and for good reason. Constantly being at the beck and call of your smart phone, contactable at all hours by not only your family and friends but strangers from the deepest, darkest corners of the internet, is not good for your stress levels, so it’s important to prioritise.
You could try leaving your phone in another room at night so it can’t disturb your sleep, you’re not tempted to check the time and trigger the blue light of doom in the middle of the night, and the first thing you do when you wake up in the morning isn’t to check your notifications. Once you’ve mastered the overnight unplug, you might try a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, and if that leaves you feeling refreshed and recharged you can graduate to a full weekend unplugged.
If you really can’t be away from your phone or device (fellow parents, I hear you), then try setting it to Do Not Disturb and allowing a short list of emergency contacts to get through if they need to.
The key is to put as much importance on your rest as you do your work, block out non-negotiable rest time in your calendar every day (yes, every single day, an hour or even thirty minutes can do you the world of good). Try a few new rest activities until you have a list of go-to choices for any time length, location and level of rest required. Prioritise yourself and your needs, and the added benefit will be a stronger work ethic during your allocated work time, more creativity and ideas, and less periods of burn out.
Plus, you might actually enjoy it!
How do you spend your rest time? Do you prioritise rest as strongly as you do work? We’d love to hear from you, join the conversation on Linkedin.