Work. It’s just a word right? Yet, to so many, it is the very definition of self. That hurts. I am reminded of a brilliant little couplet by Greg Delanty recently published in The Poetry Review:
Delanty is right. Words wound. In the context of this article, all too easily your job can become the only thing you are: you are judged (and die) by that single sword. For many, many people living in this country who are full-time parents, carers, grand-parents, they feel isolated by society’s tendency to pigeon-hole by occupation. In our very British way of assuming and imposing order on the unnecessary, these people are left almost without identity.
It is time that we – as a nation – paid far more attention and dues to the things that are not perceived and universally credited as ‘work’. Carers, Parents, Grandparents, Thinkers, unpaid board members, governors, volunteers. As Ann Marie Slaughter is quoted in The Washington Post today: ‘Why do we devalue someone the minute they care for others?’
There is a lot to do here: flex-working, work-time credit for community volunteer hours, a recognition that in an international 24/7 e-future, the 9-5 is dead. People must be encouraged to think that their employment is but a slither of their identity; to think of the self as a colourful pie-chart of many segments. A work-life balance is erroneous, it suggests that if you give too much to one then, like a poorly weighted Goddess of Justice you come crashing down. It is also clear that with most people working/commuting a 9 or 10 hour day, then (given 7 hours for sleep), the scales are already not weighted in ‘life’s’ favour.
The recent press surrounding the Swedish 6-hour working day proposals has also been interesting. Britain has a choice to make: 1) we can bankrupt parents with wrap-around care costs before and after school. 2) we can extend school days to 8 or 9 hours, devaluing the idea of family time and cerebral rest or 3) we can start to stop worrying about working so hard. After all, no worker bee ever died happy; the queen bee grows fat and the drones are swept up with the autumn leaves. We are what we care about. Let’s care about creating a community of carers and thinkers. It is time to make paid employment a smaller part of what we care about. You know what, I bet the world still goes around and the sun still rises tomorrow.