Why We Need to Create a Rest Ethic and Get Rid of the Badge of Busy

Obsessing over our work ethic has led us to a place of burnout.

Welcome to 2021. The year we’ve finally just said goodbye to was not an easy one — period — but it posed specific challenges when it came to work. The erosion of the boundaries between home and work created a constant battle against burnout — a battle, I admit, I wasn’t always successful at fighting. In fact, that’s the reason I took some extended time off over the holidays. It was very productive time off, and that was partly due to the fact that very much on my mind was my recent interview on the “WorkWell” Deloitte podcast with John Fitch and Max Frenzel, authors of the very timely book Time Off: A Practical Guide to Building Your Rest Ethic and Finding Success Without the Stress. It was a great lesson in how we need to rethink how we think about time off.

We all pride ourselves on having a great work ethic. If you didn’t take your work seriously, or put a lot of thought and consideration into your work and how to do it better, you probably wouldn’t be here reading this. But we’re missing something — what John and Max call a “rest ethic,” which is the part of the podcast that resonated most for me. It’s one of those terms that’s new, but you instantly get it because it captures something essential about our experience. That’s certainly been the reaction of everybody at Deloitte that I mentioned it to.

And it makes sense. Our constant focus solely on our work ethic helps fuel our culture’s obsession with the “badge of busy,” in which our harried, overscheduled lives of perpetual busyness are proudly worn as a badge of honor. We think that the way to communicate that we take our jobs seriously is to never stop doing them. But having a strong work ethic — without a correspondingly strong rest ethic that we take every bit as seriously — is what’s burning us out. That’s certainly been true for me in the past.

The connection between our work ethic and our rest ethic should be as natural as breathing. “The work ethic is to inhale — it’s getting things done, it is going down your task list, but you can only keep inhaling for so long,” Max told me. “A lot of people have forgotten that — they try to keep inhaling, inhaling, and that’s how you get to burnout.”

Another lesson I drew from the conversation is our need to get rid of the guilt we feel around time off. We should see it instead as an “investment into productivity, and into creativity,” as Max put it. And if you think you don’t have time for time off, then, as John said, “that means someone else has your time.”

This past year, with all of its never-ending disruptions, was a time in which so much of our conversation around work was about how to create more boundaries for our work, how to be more productive once we sat down to work, and how to stay focused and not let ourselves get distracted from our work.

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