Tag Archives: work-life balance

Sick Systems

Health minister Jeremy Hunt is out there talking about how we have a rather high premature death rate in the UK. That’s the number of people dying under 75. Obesity and smoking are on the agenda as things to sort out. No mention of course of the growing correlation between obesity and poverty, or the influence of food prices, inadequate incomes even amongst those in employment, and the ease of filling up on empty calories that will leave you overweight and suffering from malnutrition. There’s a sick system for you. The way in which food is organised in the western world is not conducive to a healthy lifestyle. There’s still not enough food education out there. Without fixing the system, it’s unrealistic to expect individuals to get this right.

There is an elephant in the room (no, that’s not a fat joke). The elephant is stress. High blood pressure, heart attacks, cancer, and pretty much any other ailment you might think of will be aggravated by long term stress. Add in people whose work lives do not give them time to exercise properly, eat properly, rest enough or sleep enough, and you have a sick system. Why are people in Europe not dying off young in the way we are? How about shorter working hours, a better work-life balance and things of that ilk? To even suggest that is to challenge the work longer harder faster for less and less philosophy that underpins our current economic model.

Fear of unemployment, of losing your home, or being stigmatised – these do not contribute to a well and functional populous. That kind of thing may push you towards comfort eating. There’s a known correlation between sleep deprivation and weight gain as well, but we aren’t talking about the sleep deprived when it comes to obesity. As a culture we do not value sleep nearly enough. Light pollution and noise pollution contribute to our sleeplessness. Shift work plays havoc with circadian rhythms. For someone caught up in the pressure to work longer hours, the fear of losing their job, the difficulty of paying the bills, sleep can be hard to find, and this in turn will make said person ill.

Unfair systems are about as stressful as it gets. Governments that break the law and then change the law retrospectively to make what they did ok… do we feel relaxed and comfortable about that? As legal aid dries up, it will be increasingly easy for those with wealth to use the threat of the law to bully into submission, victims who cannot afford to fight them. If that isn’t making you feel a little bit sick, you’ve not been paying attention. Systems that we know are likely to encourage the innocent to plead guilty and the guilty to plead innocent.

There is a relationship between happiness and health. There is a relationship between stress and poor mental health. Stressed, frightened, overstretched people are going to be more vulnerable to disease than relaxed and happy people. And really, if life is miserable and the one comfort is your tobacco, or getting smashed out of your face on cheap alcohol, or eating too many cakes… are you really going to deny yourself the one little pleasure remaining to you? Sure, it may be going to kill you, one day, but there are days when for a person living on the edge, that would just be a relief and an end to all the struggling. And yes, under the new systems we have, more people are apparently reporting suicidal feelings to their doctors.

You will not get a majority of well people in a sick system. If you have a system that pays no regard to well-being and treats humans like disposable commodities, you are not going to have well people. Sorry Mr Hunt, you can’t have it both ways. You can’t grind people into the floor and except them to stay well and not cost your health system anything. It comes down to what you value, doesn’t it, and how good your maths is. My government sows policies that are bound to make people ill. Sooner or later, the medical bill for that is going to come in. If you don’t pay it as a medical bill, you’ll pay it as a crisis in mental health, or in lost work days.

If we valued quality of life more than GDP, we would not be here.


The politics of childhood

Apparently UK education minister Michael Gove thinks children should have much longer school days and much shorter holidays to bring us in line with Hong Kong. He’s also a fan of rote learning and filling children’s heads with ‘facts’ – names and dates from history and the such. Childhood can be a loaded political issue. I note how much this Gove policy resembles the attitude of early Maoist China to children. That stemmed from a deliberate intention to break family units and make everyone more engaged with the state. So, what’s Gove’s agenda, you have to wonder?

What is childhood for? Obviously children need to grow up into functional adults. They need life skills too. I would argue that developing the ability to learn, reason, analyse, research, create, innovate and the such is the best education a child can have. The world changes all the time. The young person who can flex, learn and adapt is the one who can do best for themselves and their communities. Knowing historical dates and spurious statistics won’t do you any good in the real world.

The Victorians romanticised childhood, and did away with labour for children, taking them out of the workplace and putting them into schools. But, what is education for? Is it simply to keep children out of the way while parents work? Is school there to train the employees of the future, or should learning be more about developing rounded, functional people who are capable of thinking? I don’t think the latter precludes going on to be economically successful. I’d say there’s a case that it makes for a better, smarter, more flexible country having people educated that way. It doesn’t give you cogs for your machine, or people trained to serve and obey. I have to ask, what is the Tory agenda here? I think it’s all about serving the minority at the expense of the majority.

As a Pagan, I feel strongly about creatures being able to live freely in their natural habitats. I include humans in this. Humans are not meant to be battery farmed any more than chickens or pigs are. We too need fresh air, freedom to move, time to rest. Adults and children alike should not be pushed towards ever longer work hours just to serve the corporate machine. It is a morally wrong approach. Humanity does not exist to serve GDP.

As a parent, I want to spend time with my child. I want to talk with him, play with him, share life with him. I did not become a parent with a view to handing over my child to the state and hardly ever seeing him. I suspect I’m not alone in this. Back at the last election, the Tories talked about championing family life. Well, if you want family life, you have to have time for it, and longer school hours, longer work hours doesn’t achieve that. Tired people falling into bed do not have a family life. This is not a move towards a better work life balance.

Stressed, overworked, overtired humans who lack for social and emotional contact are more likely to become sick, depressed and dysfunctional. School is tiring for young humans whose bodies are growing and changing all the time. They need periods of rest, they need unstructured time to learn and grow properly. If we go the Gove route, we will not beget success. Instead we’ll be saving for a long term crisis in mental health and social cohesion.

Hard work should only exist where it furthers human causes. We are not here to make other people wealthy. We should not sacrifice our lives to the insane, dysfunctional and wrongheaded dictats of a ruling ‘elite’ that seems to have no grip on reality whatsoever. It looks like children are the next targets or their insane and toxic policies. We have to fight.


The hardworking people

Apparently David Cameron was on Radio 4 this morning telling the UK how much he cares about ‘the hardworking people’. At first glance, that seems fine, but it stands a poke. First, as soon as you say something like this, you are probably also saying (especially if you’re a Tory), by implication that there are people who are not hardworking and you aren’t in favour of them. You are also saying that hardworking is the only measure of a person. Let’s take that further.

A hardworking person is putting in long hours, pretty much by definition. They probably live to work, rather than working to live. But there’s no call to quality here, only to look busy. A hardworking person may have meticulously re-ordered the stationary cupboard today. They might spend hours diligently folding socks in the best possible way. They might spend several extra hours in the office every day, appearing to be very busy, afraid they will lose their job if they don’t appear to be working long hours, and working hard, but not actually doing anything useful. What they will be doing is reducing their own quality of life, having a terrible work-life balance, and neglecting other aspects of being human.

Hard work and long hours happily contributes to a process of making things we neither need nor can afford and then convincing each other to pay for them anyway. This is one of the things that underpins the inherent instability and unsustainability of our culture. Working long, hard hours contributes to the rising epidemic of stress, anxiety and depression related illness, which in turn costs a lot of working hours every year and a lot of time spent on doctors and drugs. That is not a win in any sense. Long, hard hours at work undermine family life, means parents have less chance to be involved in bringing up their own children, and puts an obscene amount of pressure on our planet. And this, ladies and gentlemen, is apparently the pattern our Prime Minister is cheering about. Never mind that most of his overpaid, over-privileged, under-worked friends have probably never done the kinds of things we’re talking about here.

As a Druid, I care about nature. I see human beings as part of nature, and I see what is natural continually being overruled by this pressure to be good little producers, forever busy selling and consuming. Why are we so obsessed with creating and wasting far more than any of us need? Because idiots stand up in public and suggest there is a moral high ground to working yourself to death for the sake of ten more sales of a thing that is destined to sit in a garage and gather dust, or go into the bin barely used. Of course the more caught up we are in frantically working longer and harder to be good little citizens, the less time we have to think about moral and ethical issues, the less energy we have for questioning governments. What a strange coincidence!

Let’s not cheer over people working twelve hour days, and six and seven day weeks. Let’s gently encourage them to live, and facilitate their doing so. Let’s not demand the quickest, cheapest, least humane option at every turn.

I could work really hard today. I could write thousands and thousands of words until my hands are in agony and my mind is in meltdown. I might even be able to sell it to someone. And then I would have contributed to the great pile of ill-conceived, throw away reading material in the world. Whoopee. Forgive me if I don’t think that’s clever. Or I can move slowly, take the time to think. Which project is most important and relevant? Which topic most needs airing? Where can I say something profound, or something that will improve peoples’ days by making them smile?

From a purely economic perspective, ten thousand words of any pap I can think of, will not make me the next Neil Gaiman, or the next JK Rowling. Quality matters. Better to work lightly and get things right than expend a lot of energy flapping, flailing and messing things up. You can work very hard and end up with total rubbish. You can also work smart, at the right speed, with care and integrity. Maybe it doesn’t look as though quite as much is getting done, but getting it right the first time should mean going home early, not three hours of overtime. We’re too collectively focused on the idea that time is money, and that working – any work, no matter what it achieves or ruins – is morally superior to no work. Remember the guys checking train lines for dangerous faults, overpressured, with not enough time to do the job? Someone died as a consequence of people being asked to work too hard, and being unable to do the job as a consequence. This is not the right way to do things.

In nature, most things do only what is needful. The rest of the time, they rest, play, sunbathe, groom, sing, socialise. Humans are not very natural. I’m not advocating an ethic of total laziness here, I work, and I work most days, but I do not believe in work for the sake of it, and I do not think anyone should be martyring themselves for the cult of overtime and the gods of GDP.