During lockdown, I have often finished work and set out on my commute from the guest room to the living room, making a cup of tea, and wondered when my husband will finish. He had been working overtime more than ever before. Still is. Sometimes, I find this frustrating. Why doesn’t he stop? There’s always more work to be done so can’t it wait? I didn’t understand why meetings were being scheduled after his finishing time and not making that time up. It was alien to me.
As I thought about this, I asked - why is it alien to me? Then it hit me - because of my own experience of the company culture where I work. In my marketing job with The Alternative Board (UK), the culture is very much about work-life balance and there are often conversations about ‘making the time up’ and not ‘overworking’. There are times when it is needed of course, but that culture has encouraged me to only work the hours I’m paid for, allowing me to have balance and brain space from work. Unfortunately, this isn’t a prominent trait in many company cultures. I know many people, of different ages, who are working overtime, especially during lockdown. Maybe because there's work to be done or maybe because 'everybody does it and therefore it doesn't feel acceptable not to.'
Is that just the way it is? I don’t think it needs to be. Despite me not working overtime, our plans are still moving forward but in a way that is controlled, thought out and not a constant grind. This makes work, though at times stretched, fulfilling rather than stressful.
These thoughts about working culture reminded me of a small book I read recently. Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata. It explores the story of Keiko, a woman living in Japan, knocking on the door of forty, who has always worked in a convenience store. There’s constant pressure around her from her parents and her few friends to get a ‘proper job.’ But she is good at her job in the convenience store, knowing its inner workings like the back of her hand. Throughout the book, we see her connections to the store, visiting it when not on shift and falling asleep to imagining its sounds. Towards the end, after quitting and trying to interview for more ‘culturally acceptable’ jobs, she even visits another store and feels it speaking to her, telling her everything that needs to be improved. She claims that she was born to hear its voice; born to be a convenience store worker, and that’s who she was.
While I love the sentiment of Keiko not letting the societal pressures of Japanese culture pull her away from what she loved and was good at, the way she happily defines herself by her job is unsettling. Yet of course it’s completely relatable. What we do with most of our time is most likely what we define ourselves as. This is something God has been challenging me about. Do I want to be defined by how successful I am or how successful others see me as in my day to day job? I’m not sure. From a faith perspective, I know I am defined as a child of God because of my belief in what Christ did for me and His unbelievable grace.
So what am I getting at here?
Just like Kieko, a lot of us constantly listen to the voices of our jobs; that constant, unyielding voice. How can we learn to switch off when we've finished work? By changing our attitude and our working cultures, whether that’s individually or corporately. It’s absolutely each person’s choice how much they work and how much they want to think about it. I’m not sitting here saying that I don’t work hard. I absolutely do, but I am learning to change my attitude towards it, giving it to God and trying to make sure I get rest. Because it’s proved time and time again to be good for me, both physically and spiritually.
Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28