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Change Course

Publishing Date : 13 August, 2019

Stuart White
The World in Black-N-White

I begin today with an extract from an anonymous poem printed in an English newspaper in the nineteenth century (Hampshire Advertiser - Saturday 29 August 1857).  The poem is entitled ‘A Change is As Good As A Rest’.

Ye sturdy old sons of the soil,
Who work through the day with such zest,
'Tis little ye have beside labour and toil;
But little of change or of rest.
That porter just over the road,
Of this bit of knowledge posess'd,
From shoulder to shoulder is shifting his load -
A change is as good as a rest.

That student, in sciences deep,
(With time's sterling value impress'd)
Now turns to My Novel, not thinking of sleep -
A change is as good as a rest.
That merchant gets up with the lark,
His duties are aught but a jest;
These over, he rides with his son in the park -
A change is as good as a rest.

My wife, in the kitchen below,
For dinner provideth her best,
Then crochets a nightcap for "dear little Flo" -
A change is as good as a rest.
Mark I then, fellow-mortals around,
All ye who would wish to be blest,
Much wisdom in this simple phrase may be found -
A change is as good as a rest.

The phrase ‘a change is as good as a rest’ is an old English proverb which came to mind this week when a colleague from a client company announced happily that he was about to leave for Johannesburg where  he would be attending a 3-day management course.  He looked very pleased at the prospect and when pressed merely smiled and said ‘Just to get out of the office’.

I think we can all empathise.  As much as we may love our work,  there are days when it can appear humdrum and bit same ol’ same ol’.  I’m lucky enough to work in an industry which offers new adventures and opportunities quite routinely, meaning that there’s no such thing as an entirely typical day. 

Yes, there is structure and formatting but there are many tools in my work box which keeps the function fresh.  In addition, my profession is by its very nature people-oriented and  every human being is an individual with unique skill sets, personality, problems, aspirations and background.   On the other hand, running a company also deals out a large serving of deadly dull administration but that could be viewed as the change that’s my rest - so in a very real way for me, each day throws up a new challenge of one sort or another.  

The ‘change’ here is not necessarily referring to time off in the form of leave days.  Holidays certainly offer up  the chance of rest and relaxation but annual leave is often restricted in many organisations.  Some indeed have enforced leave periods linked to annual shutdowns, often at peak holiday times such as Christmas when holiday booking prices and travel rates are higher and less affordable; and to those with large families trips away are often out of the question due to financial constraints.

On the other hand, just taking a break from the workplace can be refreshing in itself.  Time to read that book that’s been sitting neglected on the shelf   because you’re too tired to read it at the end of an exhausting day, time maybe to fix the bookshelf it’s sitting on, a job you’ve been putting off for ages for the same reason.  Then again, if you edit or publish books for a living, your idea of a complete change might be a box set television binge or a marathon weeding and planting session in the garden.

Going back to the poem, it’s clear that the author is not advocating  indolence per se- it was, after all, penned in the Victorian era of honest toil and the concept that the ‘devil makes work for idle hands’!   To the poor ‘sons of the soil’ in the first verse – agricultural workers in modern parlance, he (or she) offers sympathy but no respite;  To the porter in verse 2, the job offers only the opportunity to shift the load from hand to hand – not much of a change there; 

But the student is encouraged to put away their academic tomes and read a novel before bed;  The merchant to jump on a horse for a pleasure ride with his son;  And his wife obviously takes enjoyment from a little crochet work after the household chores have been taken care of.  Simple pleasures all and of their time but the principle remains as valuable today as it was then.  Substitute an hour in the gym for the ride in the park, any modern craft for crocheting and an hour on the computer for the stressed-out student you have our new millennium equivalent.

And of course there is the workplace itself where we spend such a large proportion of our weekday lives.   Large global corporations are increasingly designing flexible workspaces for employees with hot desks, communal collaboration areas and even play spaces comprising sporting facilities, sleep areas, and snack bars.

Consider this company called Atlanta Tech Village (ATV),  housed in a a 5-story building dedicated to tech start-ups including  Moxie Sports, Yik Yak and Salesloft where business owners have their own private office.   In the lobby there is a huge break room complete with couches, ping-pong table, foosball table, two 72-inch TVs for video games, two kegs of beer and a kitchen full of snacks and drinks.

CEO Jerry Slutzky insists the break rooms are not a distraction. “It aids to production,” he says.

“If you can escape and go play some ping pong or whatever it is...do it! An individual needs a certain amount of mental breaks throughout the day,” 

One study from Healthy Decide shows that a little distraction can even be good for your brain. In this digital era, when staring at a computer screen, a 15 second break taken every ten minutes decreases fatigue by as much as 50 percent.

Such radical workspaces are uncommon hereabouts, though some local organisations are coming round to the concept of more open planning and fewer offices and closed doors.  In the meantime, however, there’s always the possibility of a short training course in Jo’burg, bringing in mind another wise old English proverb – ‘out of sight, out of mind’!



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