Find a Sacrosanct Work-Life Balance

The other night, my home office land line rang at two o’clock in the morning. A client thought they could just leave a voice mail for me to retrieve later.

Another client was clearly nonplussed when I would not divulge my cell phone number so she can reach me when I’m not in my office.

Very often, I’ll be at an appointment or in a meeting with someone, their cell phone rings or a text dings, and they excuse themselves to take the call or thumb-type a response.

The boundaries start to blur, don’t they?

What is appropriate? What is polite? Are we ever, anymore, in the moment?

When are we working and not working? Does the presence of technology mean we’re on the clock 24 hours a day, seven days a week?

A friend of mine regularly fields phone calls and emails on Sundays — forget about down time, sabbath, weekend, time with the family, or just time off.

Connecticut used to be a sabbath-inspired Blue Law state, and up until the late 1970s most businesses could not even open on Sundays! Maybe blue laws seem quaint now — or controlling— but they indicated a respect for work life vs. home life, business time vs. private time.

Then in walks technology and voraciously eats up our time and stomps all over the lines. We’ve kinda created a monster, haven’t we?

It’s why I was intrigued to read Josie Le Blond’s article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age?” on the BBC website recently. The right to switch off? Check this out:

What seemed perfectly normal to the American, working after hours, was inconceivable to the German[s]. After all, it was Feierabend, a German term which refers both to the end of the working day and the act of switching off from work entirely.

Down time is taken very seriously in Europe’s biggest economy. That’s why, when the European Union introduced mandatory work and rest periods back in 2003, the Germans embraced the chance to enshrine their sacrosanct work-life balance in law.

A SACROSANCT WORK-LIFE BALANCE

“People think it’s not so bad if they just send a quick email, but in most cases, they are then back at work in their thoughts for much longer, making it difficult to switch off and detach.” — Nils Backhaus, Germany’s Federal Institute for Occupational Safety and Health

Switching off from work entirely. Imagine! For German workers, it’s pretty much mandatory. The Working Hours Act says: “After each working day, employees are entitled to have an uninterrupted rest period of at least eleven hours (twelve hours for those aged between 15 and 18) before the beginning of the next working day. ”

Reading an email or taking a call from a colleague counts as work and restarts the clock on another 11-hour break. And — get this — if an employee can show that interruptions to their rest periods have made them ill, that’s considered a crime on the part of the employer.

Not everyone is thrilled with the rule, of course. And I’m not sure how those stringent guidelines would apply in the States (eye roll) or for those of us who work for ourselves or freelance. But still, the recognition by businesses that rest is critical to both our physical and mental health is amazing.

Think it’s not possible? “Back in 2011, Volkswagen announced it would turn off its email server overnight to prevent the exchange of work emails out of hours. Others, including BMW and Bosch, have established guidelines for employees when it comes to contacting each other after hours.”

If you build it (a different way of thinking about technology and our work life), we will come (to the table with some new approaches for how to live a more balanced life).

“The Feierabend culture is really healthy,” says [one] American academic. “How refreshing for it to be totally okay to leave work at five o’clock and never exchange work emails on the weekend.”

How refreshing indeed.

©2020, Jen Payne. Read the full article “Can Germans’ right to switch off survive the digital age? by Josie Le Blond, February 24, 2020 on BBC Worklife, https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20200218-can-germans-right-to-switch-off-survive-the-digital-age. Read Connecticut’s Blue Laws https://quod.lib.umich.edu/m/moa/agy1674.0001.001/5?view=image&size=100.

2019: The Year in Books


“Books are the quietest and most constant of friends; they are the most accessible and wisest of counselors, and the most patient of teachers.” ― Charles W. Eliot


As the years winds down, I have a book in queue (The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler) and the manuscript for a dear friend’s new book in my lap. It’s my favorite reading time of year: this hot coffee, chilly air, fire in the fireplace, cat on the lap season that it is.

In this week’s in-box, the Goodreads “Your Year in Books” reports that I have read 51 books this year, and some 13,451 pages. The shortest, at 40 pages, was Wabi Sabi, a wonderfully collaged children’s book by Mark Reibstein; the longest at a whopping 545 pages was The Witches of New York by Ami McKay.

Speaking of pages, this was the year I instituted my 29-page rule: if I’m not all-in by page 29, I’m all-out. Life is too short to be half-in on anything, isn’t it?

Books with 5-star, all-in ratings this year included:

  • The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, Jacqueline Kelly
  • Almost Everything, Notes on Hope, Anne Lamott
  • Witchmark, C.L. Polk
  • The Alice Network, Kate Quinn
  • Peony in Love, Lisa See
  • The Forest Lover, Susan Vreeland
  • Beyond the Bright Sea, Lauren Wolk

Through no fault of her own, Barbara Kingsolver earned the only one-star rating this year for Unsheltered. My review said something like this: “I adore Kingsolver’s work and her commitment to helping us better understand the natural world and our environment, but…we. are. still. living. the. nightmare. I’m off to read some escapist fiction now. Thank you. And no hard feelings.”

Which could explain why I devoured Ottessa Moshgegh’s book My Year of Rest and Relaxation, in which the protagonist drug-sleeps her way through an entire year.

But who needs drugs when you have books? I mean, what better way to escape for a moment or week than to time travel (Time After Time, Lisa Grunwald), get lost in a mystery (The Clockmaker’s Daughter, Kate Morton), consider other monsters (Melmoth, Sarah Perry), or just find solitude (The Salt House, Cynthia Huntington ).

What better way indeed?

Now, here’s some happy news with which to start your year…the new Ransom Riggs book, The Conference of the Birds, hits shelves January 14! I’m pre-ordered. Are you?

Happy New Year and Blissful Reading!

©2019, Jen Payne. IMAGE: The submissive reader, Rene Magritte

This Too Shall Pass

“There once was a king who was going to put to death many people, but before doing so he offered a challenge.

If any of them could come up with something which would make him happy when he was sad, and sad when he was happy, he would spare their lives. All night the wise men meditated on the matter.

In the morning, they brought the king a ring. The king said that he did not see how the ring would serve to make him happy when he was sad and sad when he was happy.

The wise men pointed to the inscription. When the king read it, he was so delighted that he spared them all.

And the inscription? This too shall pass.

— RAM DASS —

A Holiday Toast

“Be a good steward of your gifts. Protect your time. Feed your inner life. Avoid too much noise. Read good books, have good sentences in your ears. Be by yourself as often as you can. Walk. Take the phone off the hook. Work regular hours.”

— JANE KENYON —

Happy Holidays & Heartfelt
Best Wishes for the New Year!

if I call it the Zombie Apocalypse, neither of us are as scared as we should be

For My Nephew Max

At dawn, I scoop soft flesh from native squash
separate the slippery seeds in a shallow dish,
add olive oil, salt, pepper……….wonder:
should I dry them, save them, hide them
instead in a dark corner in the cellar store?

Before too much time, I should teach you,
teach you these things you’ll need to know,
like where the wild asparagus grow,
and how to shuck oysters……….if they remain

Scientists say now the seals might die.
Will oysters follow suit? The sweet brine of clams the same?
Do I even know if seeds will store and for how long
before they……….and we……….amount to ash?

Once, an acorn took root in the cellar,
stretched its albino shoot as high as it could reach
then gave up the ghost with a long heavy sigh
that haunted the house for days.

Acorns, I am told, are edible……….with work
But I pray that won’t be you, your sweet small self
stretched reaching-thin towards the sun
……….or the rain……….or the last nut high on a branch.

Remind me to tell you about nuts,
and roots and berries, spring shoots,
and mushrooms — both kinds, just in case.

 

Poem ©2019, Jen Payne. For similar reflections, please purchase a copy of my new book WAITING OUT THE STORM. Click here for details.