One of the first things to go, in my experience, in the swell of 21st Century work culture is our commitment to look after ourselves.
It starts slowly.Maybe a missed meal or two during the week. Or that really long day where you don't leave your desk for 6 hours. Or the weekend where you just slip in for a couple hours to get caught up.
In our Zoom after Zoom world, it is increasingly easy to ignore simple bodily functions until we start asking ourselves "did I pee today".
I have seen signs of resistance to this culture of overwork -- office water challenges. Team weight loss challenges. And even pot luck lunches as a way of ensuring people actually _take_ a break and eat.
These are hopeful, communal signs of support and proactivity.
But what we don't see often is the visible leadership to challenge us when we are overworking. When we are staying late and coming in early. When we cancel our holidays because there is just too much to do and no one to cover for us. The system is actually set up to rely on these types of behaviour.
But the system is abetted by our internalization of the idea that no one else is there to do our work and our work cannot be left undone. That we are uniquely placed to complete this work and in order for it to be successful we must appear to be filling every moment of our day with it.
Byung-Chul Han, in his book The Burnout Soceity, tells us that it is the "pressure to achieve that causes exhaustive depression" and that the "achievement subject [the current citizen of the modern world] gives itself over to compulsive freedom -- that is to the free constraint of maximizing achievement" (The Burnout Society 2015, pg10-11).
Our indoctrinated desire to achieve creates in us both the discipline to work, or overwork, AND the outcome of burnout. We are bound by our own "free constraints" of belief of what it means to be a success.
He also notes that our society (within which achievement is the ultimate goal) has little time or respect for idleness, for boredom, for daydreaming, even for sleep -- the very states of mind that are MOST conducive to creativity and resilience because of the state of deep mental relaxation (pg 13) gained during that time.
So if our achievement society demands both creativity and overwork, we set ourselves up for a cognitive impact where disdain and desire clash. This space is where cynicism and negativity grow. It is where hopelessness and helplessness flourish. It is where we lose a LOT of good people to the tyranny of busyness.
In this environment, rest is a disruptive behaviour. It disrupts the common narrative that achievement requires overwork and highlights the value, the necessity, the gift that is non-achievement.
And it is our own sense of achievement, our own desire to be successful in this world, that compels us to overwork so it MUST be our own efforts at downtime, at "doing nothing", that is our response to our own burnout and depression.
It is time to nurture the belief that "profound idleness" is what we require to enhance our creativity, our passion, and reverse the onslaught of burnout that we see in every industry and in particular in Healthcare.
So take the radical position that doing nothing is as or more vital than finishing that report that no one needs today. Leave work unfinished on your desk while you head into the sunshine to breath. Let others see you prioritizing your health and well-being and ask them to join you in rebellious system change.
Systems will, finally, HAVE to adjust if workers start putting themselves first.