I wrote this blog originally 3 months ago – it has sat here, I’ve tinkered with it. Deleted, undeleted, edited, added, chopped and changed and its been hard to let it go. It started as a series of thoughts on working 24/7, never switching off and expecting those that work for us to never switch off and how that couldn’t be good. But. But somewhere along the way it got very personal, confessional and this has been whats held me back from pressing publish. In a world where putting something on your blog is pretty much the same as putting it on your CV did I really want my mental health on display? Its not that I hide it – I don’t lie about it, I’m open about my issues with depression but to be quite so….well quite so has taken some thought.
My point is still the same – we are human, we are not unbreakable, we are pliable and flexible and we can be bent and stretched and usually we bounce back. But if you stretch too far, bend too often then something might have to give.
So excuse the confessional tone but well here is the actual blog part…..
Late last year there was a news article about how workers should take time off at the weekends and not work on Saturdays – just Sundays, but that they should check their messages throughout the weekend. It was one of the banks or accountancy practices I think – not the NHS or emergency services but people dealing with paper and numbers.
Now to be honest I’ve worked this way for many years, if I’ve got work to do I’ll usually push it to Sunday and always check my email/messages over the weekend. I’m not a surgeon, no one will die, no business will fold if I don’t but I like to be ready for the week with a cleanish slate and a plan of what’s to be done. I never completely switch off, you see I love what I do and I think people and the way we work, interact, behave is fascinating. So I’m never truly ‘off’ but I certainly ensure I have ‘down time’, I relax, spend time with those I love and the dog. Eat, drink, be merry – sometimes I stay in my PJs for 24 hours and barely move from bed to sofa to bed again (sometimes).
But should we be encouraging the don’t switch off culture that the article suggested? Would we better benefit from truly rested employees? Or is switching off a myth in this age of 24/7 communications? What does this do for equality, diversity? How does this allow those who worship a particular faith to participate?
What about the magical work life balance?
A few years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression, this diagnosis came after a particularly dramatic breakdown whilst working in a job I loved, with a team I really enjoyed being with and with challenging work. But in the previous 12 months I had spent 180 days in hotels in different timezones, I’d separated from my husband of 10 years, moved 200 miles south back to the town I went to school in, started smoking again. Slept badly, ate badly, drank too often and had a constant sniffle. In short I hadn’t taken good care of myself and took next to no time off. There had been one holiday – a yoga retreat in Italy where I spent 5 days sobbing whenever I was alone or in yoga practice (nice right?) and every afternoon on my laptop checking emails, responding to work queries and requests. But otherwise I’d fly out on Sunday lunchtime and back overnight Friday. When in the UK I worked the hours of my colleagues around the world so yeah sure 7pm phone call no worries – and then in the US the same. 5am teleconference you say a yeah I can do that.
Despite the physical mess I did some great work that year (supporting an acquisition in Belgium, a global restructure in procurement, leadership development in Sau Paulo, Montreal and Geneva, a shift in the working relationship between finance, legal and HR) I was relied on, known for my delivery and professionally fulfilled. All the things that ticked my need box.
By the time the year end came and I returned from my 3rd US trip in 6 weeks my body said no, and soon after so did my mind.
Have I lost you – I’ve revealed and rambled a bit sorry.
There is a point – it was only when I stopped and looked back that I realised I’d had no down time. I’d been so busy being needed (and fulfilling my need to be needed) and filling gaps that I had taken no time to recharge, enjoy life and just stop. I’d missed a year of my god children growing up, a year of birthdays, celebrations, a year of adventures with friends and grieving for the end of a marriage.
I’d read very few books for pleasure, cancelled social events, only watched a film on a 9inch screen on plane, no theatre, no music. I’d taken no real time. If anyone asked I was happy, I was focused on my work and loving it (honestly part of me was) but at what cost. I’d been bent and stretched beyond my limits and eventually I broke.
Ok my example and reaction was extreme but my point is clear – people are not unbreakable. If we don’t give people room to breath, relax, unwind and rest then can we expect the best from them? There are some people who thrive from being always on (I was one of them – and still am to an extent) but those people generally love what they do – and what they do is generally their passion not just their work. They also often have the choice – the choice to work every day, the choice to get up at 5 and work until 8. But what about those that don’t? Can we really get the best from them? Can they really be their best? Are we helping them to succeed?
I don’t have the answers, what I have is this:
It’s ok to take time out.
It’s ok to not read that blog, not react to that tweet, not read the latest book, article, theory.
Its’s ok to take time to do something completely different.
And I believe that you will genuinely benefit from it. And so will your employer. I hope that when I am working with others I can spot the signs that I didn’t spot in myself. I hope that even when things seem ridiculously busy I can encourage those around me to take some time for themselves and benefit from switching off.
In the meantime I’m taking my own advice, allowing myself some real time off. Nothing major will fall apart – I’m just not that important – and I will be better for it and so will my work. I know the signs I’m pushing too far these days, know what the black dog looks like and have strategies and plans for coping. It took me to break to do this though and I don’t wan to see that ever again either in myself or others. What about you – are you taking care of you?