Do less. That way you might end up doing more

One has to ask – will the ‘unlimited vacations’ policy make a blind bit of difference?

Share

Reports greet us from across the pond that US corporations, traditionally Scrooge-like as far as paid holidays go, may be starting to review their work culture. The chief executive of Netflix has introduced what he calls “unlimited vacations”, meaning that staff can take a break whenever they feel like it. As long as the work gets done, he says, staff can do it when they choose.

This sounds like good news for idleness from one of the very few nations on earth where workers have no legal right to paid holidays. In the UK, employees are offered 5.6 weeks paid holiday each year. In the States you’d be lucky to get two. And such is the ferocity of the Protestant work ethic that even to take that miserable allowance is often frowned upon by co-workers and bosses.

Overwork has serious consequences for your health. A friend in Manhattan regularly regales me with tales of middle-aged brokers dropping dead from heart attacks. How many high achievers are divorced and estranged from their children?  The American lust for toil has long been criticised by philosophers. “The breathless haste with which they work... is already beginning to infect old Europe,” observed Nietzsche of the Americans in 1882. “Even now one is ashamed of resting, and prolonged reflection almost gives people a bad conscience.”

We Europeans have always instinctively understood the need to do nothing on a regular basis.  The Greeks, the Romans and the medievals ensured the calendar was studded with plenty of feast days on which work was not permitted.

And the latest science suggests the brain actually needs idling time. A recent publication by research scientist Andrew Smart called Autopilot: The Art and Science of Doing Nothing defends idleness. By doing nothing, he says, you activate what is called the brain’s “default mode network” and it gets busy repairing itself.

The question remains though: will the “unlimited vacations” policy make a blind bit of difference? If the guy next to you doesn’t take a holiday, will you? After all, in American corporate life, there are two categories of human being: winners and losers. Master of the Universe Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, called his autobiography simply Winning. And Welch is the heir to the cultural legacy started by GE founder Thomas Edison, inventor of the lightbulb, which banished darkness, so inconvenient to work.

Yes, the Calvinist culture goes pretty deep. And although I am opposed to totalitarian socialism, it is perhaps a good thing that European governments are less libertarian than the States when it comes to imposing laws around holidays on companies.

A new more relaxed approach could come from female leaders. Arianna Huffington recently criticised what she called the “time macho” culture and encouraged female workers to “lean back” before they lean in. And US journalist and campaigner Barbara Ehrenreich told me that we need a “serious movement to reclaim our time”.  Sisters, make it so.

Twitter @idleracademy

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The handling of the tragic deaths of Bobby and Christi Shepherd in 2006 by Thomas Cook was appalling  

Thomas Cook case was a failure of heart

Danny Rogers
Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine