Is this the end of productivity? – Vox, May 22 2020, Sam Blum
The Pandemic Gift Is Re-evaluating Self-Worth
“Nina Rudnick sometimes dreams of an escape. As a director at a psychological research nonprofit, Rudnick, 37, is beholden to an inescapable reality: Work — and the feeling that she must remain constantly immersed in it — never ends. On a typical day, she’ll herd her 3-year-old son out of bed and to day care before commuting to a nine-hour day at the office. Often, she’s back at her computer after putting him to sleep. As she continues to ascend the ranks of her field, the impulse to work beyond the hours of a normal day only grows.
But since the Covid-19 pandemic, life has slowed down. Rudnick no longer rouses her toddler in the morning and rushes to the office in a harried frenzy. She is still working, but productivity in front of a computer is making way for more sentimental moments with her son. She doesn’t want it to change.”
Through the WI lens
Productivity is strongly tied up with individuals’ identity in the US and many other western countries, as well as their sense of self-worth. During normal times, society has an obsession with productivity, evidenced by the prolific output of self-help books and magazine articles telling you how to become more productive, and the widespread practice of appraising and rewarding employees largely on the strength of how much they produce. Even during lockdown, this fixation has largely continued, Vox’s piece notes, with even those on furlough feeling the need to broadcast how many masks they’ve sown, how many exercise classes and Zoom calls they’ve taken part in.
The paradox is that we continue to do this in spite of recognising that striving to become ever-more productive is an intrinsically unhealthy behaviour, leading to stress and too often, a sense of failure. In many contexts, of course, productivity is related to two other ‘pros’: profit and prosperity. But even people who would never admit to being totally driven by money are often happy to be measured by their output as if nothing else matters. It would be naïve to think that will simply switch off after the pandemic, but at risk of mouthing a cliché, perhaps we’ll all have learned more about what we really value in our lives, if only through being forced to spend time with family and nature. And maybe more of us will have found to be finding, other ways to measure our worth.
What this article goes on to explain is how positive thinking – described here as ‘thriving’ – can counter the effects that come from the negativity outlined above, from reduced memory to diminished performance. Based on studying people in a series of organisations in different industries, one of the authors has found that people who attain this state are more resilient, experience less burnout, and are more confident in their ability to take control of a situation
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“In the new ‘consensual contract’ between employer and worker, what’s required is a commitment from the employer to safeguard the wellbeing of their people, and a commitment in return from employees to take personal responsibility for their performance of their job.”
“Could loneliness not only be damaging our mental and physical health but also be making the world a more aggressive, angry place? And if so, what are the implications for a cohesive society and democracy?”
“On such fragile foundations are built the first steps towards a more ethical kind of business, and who knows what virtuous circles might result?”
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“Economic wellbeing is part of the story, but it is also about finding less stressful lifestyles, in which healthy diet figures as a meaningful measure of success.”
“The industry has every asset needed to be a guiding light in the shift toward personal health priority. Will that become a prevention legacy, a ‘phoenix rising’ from the Covid-19 ashes?”
“Looking at the bigger picture, putting the measures in this order represents a lost opportunity that the pandemic could have offered for a cultural pivot pivot towards getting people more focused on their health, a powerful statement of intent.”
“Employment is necessary to fulfil our most basic human needs such as food and shelter. Any significant increase in long-term unemployment will spell a retrograde step for human wellbeing like no other.”