While it is a bit more than a year old now, that stunning source of scholarship and research, the New York Post, published an article which claimed that “Medieval peasants got a lot more vacation time than you.”
While I could — and probably should — bust out the variety of primary sources from my grad school years that I wouldn’t let my wife throw away during our most recent move (especially since this would give me a chance to put lie to her numerous bitchy “you’ll never use these things again in a million years” rants) to poke holes in the poor understanding of the lifestyle of not just peasants but everyone during the medieval period . . . I’m not going to.
Instead, I want to focus on the good part of the article. Where the author rightly points out just how insane the American work week has gotten. That even during vacations, it’s practically a given that you will be checking in, checking email, and maybe even getting a little bit of work done while on the beach/on the slopes/at the cabin/etc. Hell, even evenings and weekends have long since ceased being sacred, with a quick email check being practically required in order to keep up and logging in to “take care of a few things” the norm.
While no company that I have worked for has ever made these activities explicitly required precisely, none have ever gotten in the way either. In fact the number of times that I have been or have seen others chastised for not being up on things which happened while they were legitimately out of the office beggar counting.
I’m sad to say that I have no single answer to correct the course of this trend. I am a long-standing and vocal proponent of maintaining a healthy work-life balance for all that even I slip in the practice of it. The simple truth however is that widespread healthy work-life balance is something which has to be genuinely and mindfully embraced by every level of an organization; and if it’s not then the quality of life and more importantly the quality of work suffers.
I’m not calling any person or any company out for this because it’s so widespread that that, as I mentioned earlier, it has become basically institutional. There’s no lack of studies showing that 40 hour work weeks are pretty much the max humans can do before they just stop being productive; and yet the implicit if not the explicit expectation is set over and over in companies across industries that hour 40 in the week is when you’re just getting ramped up, not quitting time.
I’d continue this discussion, but it’s all just so insane. Besides, I have a two-year old who is waiting to play tickle wars with me.
To cheer everyone up, here’s Monty Python’s take on the peasantry in their Magnum Opus, Holy Grail: