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Home work

13 August 2021

“HAVE you considered reading this leader comment tomorrow morning, during office hours?” The Theos report Just Work: Humanising the labour market in a changing world, by Paul Bickley and Barbara Ridpath (News, 19 July), spoke of the intensification of the non-stop work culture. Workers are expected increasingly to be available to respond to emails and phone calls late at night or early in the morning, especially when working from home. There is a mirror argument, however: home working has given people a taste of how domestic life can be woven more seamlessly into the working day — breaking off to see to children, put away deliveries, collect washing off the line, etc.

This flexibility is one of the attractions of the clerical life. We referred last week to the Clergy Code of Conduct. That code has something to say to this topic, too: “Those who are called to marriage should never forget that this is also a vocation. It should not be thought to be of secondary importance to their vocation to ministry. Being a parent is likewise a holy calling and so ordained ministry should not take priority over bringing up children with Godly love, care, time and space. Similar considerations may apply to caring for other members of the family.”

Many clergy manage this work-life balance poorly. Both aspects of life — ministry and family — have imprecise boundaries, and could fill more hours than available. Thus clergy are supremely subject to the guilt of neglecting whichever aspect of their lives has been temporarily set aside. Fixed working hours simplify this division; but family illnesses, school holidays, and the crises that come with caring for an ageing parent seldom conform to fixed hours.

The interweaving of professional and domestic life is not necessarily the problem, therefore. It is the encroachment of the former on the latter. In Going Public: Iceland’s journey to a shorter working week, published in June, Guðmundur D. Haraldsson and Jack Kellam analyse the results of a large-scale pilot in the country’s public sector to reduce the working week to 36 or even 32 hours. “On the whole, indicators of service provision and productivity either stayed within expected levels of variation, or rose during the period of the trial.” One manager said: “I work less. . . For me it is like a gift from the heavens. And I like it a lot.” Time savings were achieved by examining work processes, avoiding duplication, and shortening meetings and breaks. The pilot was so successful that it is changing work practices in Iceland. The message is that, however fulfilling the work, the time spent on it can be reduced without loss of quality. “The biblical idea of a Sabbath is an ancient answer to a very modern anxiety,” the Theos report concludes. “If we could recover it, or find new shared practices of rest, we would help tackle overwork of people and exploitation of our natural environment.”

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