Why Shabbat UK answers Burnout Britain's prayers

November 24, 2016 23:19

Earlier this month the TUC released statistics showing a 15 per cent rise in people working more than 48 hours per week, the maximum allowed under the EU's Working Time Directive (WTD). The worrying increase suggests significant numbers of people are struggling to maintain a proper work/life balance.

How many of us have turned up at a new job and been asked to sign a form opting out of the WTD? This loophole works to the benefit of employers, but undermines the rights of employees. Maybe the TUC is correct and we really are turning into "Burnout Britain".

In many workplaces, it is not acceptable to leave at 5.30pm, even if your official work day ends then. Employees feel the need to put in "face-time" hours, do overtime and discuss on a Monday how late they worked over the weekend.

Studies have shown that working more than 48 hours a week significantly increases the risk of heart disease, stress, mental illness, stroke and diabetes.

This excessive working culture not only affects our health, it damages our relationships. Far too many of us spend those precious weekend hours with family glued to our phones, and dealing with work emails.

So, what we can do to ensure people take the break they need? The answer has, in fact, been around for thousands of years and one we all know but don't necessarily do - Shabbat.

Shabbat falls every weekend. Without fail. A full day of enforced relaxation and disconnection from work. But many of us fail to take advantage of this day of rest when we are guaranteed to be able to switch off from everyday life and switch on to actually living.

This 25-hour unplugging from work, technology and other daily stresses encourages us to engage with ourselves and our communities, to eat good food and relax with friends and family, and to remember what we are working for and what life is really about.

For some, Shabbat is seen as a restrictive period: no phones, no checking emails, no driving and many other things you could consider "don'ts".

But it also encourages a whole load of "dos". The chance to talk to loved ones without being interrupted by your boss checking in to see if you can get a report done. The opportunity to take the time to reflect on the week gone by and sit back to enjoy what life has to offer. Sounds appealing, doesn't it?

While it is important not to forget the religious aspects of a fully observant Shabbat, it is vital to realise all these other benefits too.

Last year, on October 24-25, Shabbat UK, the largest mass participation project ever organised for the Jewish community, encouraging Jews across the UK to engage with Shabbat, saw over 100,000 Jews taking it upon themselves to keep Shabbat - the day of rest.

This year, Shabbat UK, is encouraging even more Jews to make the most of something that is inherently part of their culture, history and religion and keep Shabbat on October 23-24 -it couldn't be more timely .

This long tradition of resting for the Sabbath is something all of Burnout Britain can learn from. We may not be able to say no to our boss about signing that opt-out form, but now is the time to take our weekends back.

I will be celebrating Shabbat UK with friends and family and hopefully with a lot of people I wouldn't usually spend that time with. I urge you all to make Shabbat UK your own day of rest.

Burnout Britain, are you up for it?

Yoni Birnbaum is rabbi of Hadley Wood Jewish Community (United Synagogue)

Watch Shabbat UK's latest promotional video with Matt Lucas:

November 24, 2016 23:19

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