I ran into the mother of one of my son’s pre-school classmates at the end-of-the-school-year picnic. We exchanged the usual chit-chat, and she mentioned she was going to be spending the summer with her daughter full-time. I responded, “Wow! That’s wonderful! Is your boss offering you a leave of absence?”
She responded with what I’ve heard too many times before: “No, I’ve decided to leave. I couldn’t handle being pulled in so many directions anymore. I’ll take the summer off and start looking for a new job in the fall.”
I looked across the park, to a tree where I had shared a conversation with one of my son’s classmates’ fathers not too long ago. This man shared that he had just left the job he loved and “downshifted” into another position, because the new job was more predictable. He had aging parents as well as young children to worry about, and while he had been a rock star at work, he needed a job that gave him space to take care of his family.
If these individuals had made these choices because they actually wanted something new, I’d be all for it. But in both instances, they were exhausted, burned out, and leaving careers they had been committed to and where they were making an impact. There just wasn’t space leftover to be committed to their other priorities, too.
You could easily say, “Well, they should know by now that you can’t have it all, at least not all at the same time.” And you would be right. They do know that.
But here’s the deal: these are talented people. They have been given opportunities and gifts and worked hard to grow those innate skills into significant professional contributions. They have a lot to offer.
But because of the relentless demands of a typical work day, they’ve decided to push their talents to the side. One is leaving her career entirely (at least for now), and the other took a job unaligned with his skills and professional goals so he could be there for his family. Others who face this dilemma choose to stay in a job aligned with their professional skills, but end up sacrificing their personal priorities when the workday stretches into evenings and weekends.
But are these relentless demands of a typical workday necessary? Or, perhaps more importantly, are they even effective?
When we make this conversation just about workplace flexibility or family-friendly policies, like it or not, many businesses get defensive and feel like their employees are asking for special favors.
I’m not talking about doing your employees a favor, or implementing a policy change that brings good PR. I’m talking about the best way to achieve your mission with the right team, the right focus, and the right outcomes. This is a business decision that ultimately affects your bottom line.
Our workday is a 100+ year old relic of the industrial economy, when people worked in factories using physical labor. We now operate in the knowledge economy, where people largely use their brains and mental labor, which operate very differently.
Thrive Global is deeply committed to the science behind productivity and rest. Look around the site and you will see studies showing how our concentration falters the longer we’re at work. Our brains get tired, and our work becomes less effective. The modern workday is full of unnecessary meetings that don’t lead to real outcomes, just longer to-do lists and less time to check them off. We’re expected to work through constant interruptions, even though studies show it takes 15 minutes to re-focus after an interruption. In fact, Dr. Gloria Mark of the University of California, Irvine found that knowledge workers are interrupted nearly every three minutes. That’s 20 times an hour. Do the math… how can you actually get work done?
The world is a beautiful, complicated web of joys and challenges; there are people working very hard to create positive change. I think we need more of those people, correctly aligned in jobs that use all of their skills without burning them out. We shouldn’t see people leaving careers they love and have given over a decade to, or “downshifting” to a different job because of the unnecessarily incessant demands of a work day.
In an article on NBC’s Better Page, Arianna Huffington wrote of the stages of the feminist revolution:
- First, women earned the right to vote;
- Second, women earned the ability to work in any job or career field they wanted;
- Finally, she called for a third stage: the transformation of the work day.
Don’t sideline your professional strengths or the strengths of your employees. Don’t downshift your career. Instead, let’s change the workday.
Originally published on Thrive Global.