Audio Version

 

 

Pompette is a French restaurant in Toronto. It shared this interesting Instagram post last weekend:

On world mental health day and Thanksgivings occasion, we are taking the opportunity to offer our staff more regular hours and quality time with the one they love which we believe they truly deserve. We are so thankful to work with such an engaged and talented team!
Therefore, Pompette will now be closing on Saturdays starting this week and open on Mondays.

Imagine – they changed their schedule so their employees could have a better quality of life!

A couple days later, CTV News reported about an Ontario recruitment company which had voluntarily implemented a four-day work week for its employees. The CEO, Jamie Savage, had initiated the change a year ago with workers retaining the same salaries, benefits, and vacation times. They simply worked one day less each week.

Savage explained that it was a decision made for the health and well-being of the employees who had been feeling the effects of overwork and stress. She had no way of knowing at the time what the outcome would be but it seems to have worked out. One year later the employees are happier, healthier, more productive, and business has increased 200%. Savage insists they will never go back.

I don’t know what prompted the re-ordering of each of these schedules: perhaps it was a pragmatic economic decision; perhaps the employees demanded it; perhaps the owners are good people. No matter … the outcomes are wildly refreshing.

These are just two examples of an evolving trend I have observed over the last while. There is a growing sense people have that they are out of balance and many are trying to reorient their lives around a more productive, satisfying lifestyle.¹

 

Extended work hours were birthed in the mid 1800s when electricity and its offspring, the light bulb, became common. Before that, most workers at least went home at the end of a long day and slept in their own beds through the dark hours. But electricity enabled mining, manufacturing, and retailing to operate more or less around the clock. Modernity was born! Now, a hundred and seventy-ish years later, we’re still trying to come to grips with the demands of work and rest.

It’s increasingly clear that swaths of people discovered an improved quality of life during the covid lockdowns. It’s not unusual now to hear of workers actively seeking more equitable pay, reasonable hours, shorter commutes, regular days off, less stress, flexible personal time.

In fact, the current labour shortage in some sectors is due largely to a shift in the number of workers who are choosing not to return to the rat-race. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative, 180,000 workers have left service jobs since February of 2020, while 183,000 have entered white collar jobs during the same period.

The reasons for this shift are not entirely clear but there can be little doubt that poor pay and long hours for service employees are primary. The Toronto star recently shared what we all know: “Food and accommodation services have long operated on a low-wage business model that relies on easy-to-hire cheap labour to cook, serve and clean at restaurants and bars.”²

Some of my recent conversations have confirmed this. We have neighbours who have left long-time jobs to move to more appreciative employers who offered better work schedules. I have talked to others who have said ‘no’ when their employer added responsibilities without considering the time or compensation. Those same people are learning to say no to other ‘legitimate’ requests simply because their lives were already too full.

 

And of course let’s not forget the extracurricular demands that are loaded onto many pastors and church people – performance pressures. We are taught to attend regularly, read the Bible and pray every day, give money and more money, and guilted to volunteer for ministry positions created by the staff.

However, churches are now having to consider how post-covid christianity should look after their congregations have tasted a slower, gentler way. Maybe worship doesn’t need a worship team or a building. Maybe spiritual growth can happen without sermons. Maybe community doesn’t have to be centred in the church. Maybe christians can give financial support to other needs rather than the usual tithes they pay on Sunday. Maybe community service can happen in a variety of ways and places.

 

But then, just as we are re-thinking what we do and where we go, a new reality pops up … isolation.

I read this week that some people who work from home now miss the commute, the camaraderie of the workplace, even getting dressed for work. Elsewhere I saw that there are people who are missing the community of church and the traditions of singing and Eucharist.

And there’s the complication: we don’t do well with self-centredness or aloneness either. Newness and challenge feel good too – otherwise we feel isolated, unchallenged, limp.

The Dalai Lama famously said, “When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know. But if you listen, you may learn something new.” It seems like we need something worthwhile to do, and someone to do it with.

People come into our lives with varying traits of … well, humanness. Although we may need to protect ourselves at times, we also need interaction and resistance to keep us strong and healthy. I’ve known people on both sides of the busy/bored fence. Neither seems very healthy.

 

That’s why balance matters. Nature, people / learning, teaching / work, rest / stress, fun / sharing, keeping / others, self.

Work balance means doing our jobs well without being controlled or obsessed or used. Personal balance finds appropriate time for others as well as for ourselves. Spiritual balance discovers ways to worship and serve joyfully without being engulfed by either.

Perhaps you are feeling bogged down right now. Make the most of where you are – enjoy each day, but keep searching for balance.

Or maybe you have already survived the crush of a toxic job or relationship and have found a new place of peace. Make the most of where you are – enjoy each day, but keep searching … balance is always elusive.

 

Consider the life of Jesus.

As a carpenter, his life was rooted in perspiration and physical labour yet he demonstrated a love for thinking and learning.

The Jesus recorded in the gospels walked endless dusty roads, sat under trees, and taught on hillsides and seashores.

He spent time in the city and the country; in synagogues and in living rooms.

He enjoyed food and drink but often voluntarily did without them.

Jesus associated equally: men and women, young and old, sick and healthy, rich and poor, loved and hated.

Jesus’ life principles were taught by observing birds, bread, water, garbage dumps, and anything else around him.

Frequently he lounged at the tables of his friends and disciples, yet just as often he lounged at the tables of his enemies and people he didn’t know.

He would exhaust himself traveling, teaching, healing, then just as often, he would make time to hide, pray, rest.

Let me assure you that God wants you to have balance in your life so you can appropriately love yourself, God, and others. That includes firmly saying ‘no’ when you feel pressure or pride, and confidently saying ‘yes’ when you feel joy and passion.

 

As I sit looking out into our backyard, there are hundreds of starlings swarming in the trees. They are alternately swooping en masse into the air then diving into the cornfield behind our house. Then returning to the trees, only to dart into the sky then plunge again to the field. Then again. And again.

Stupid birds.

Stupid, mesmerizing, inspiring birds.

They exist in a mindless, tightly woven mob.

A choreographed crowd catching air currents.

A symbiotic throng … each one flying freely!

Life is a balance between the gridlock of living with others and the open air of our own freedom.

Both matter.

 

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¹ Literally, as I was heading downstairs to record the audio for this blog, I noticed breaking news on my phone that a provincial political party is proposing to investigate 4 day work weeks (if elected).

² https://www.thestar.com/business/2021/10/13/restaurant-workers-fled-to-white-collar-jobs-during-the-pandemic-report-finds.html

 

Image by Ralf Kunze from Pixabay