This week I wrote about observing the seasons and how these might cause us to reflect on the patterns we adopt in our lives. Yesterday, I was exploring the idea of the pattern of the workweek as a cultural phenomenon. Today I’m exploring the idea of a seasonally adjusted workweek, and how this might help us understand the ecological crisis.
In the UK, the difference in light levels between winter and summer is fairly dramatic (although not as dramatic as closer to the poles). I find it impossible to imagine long summer evenings in the depth of winter; much as I find dark winter afternoons implausible when I’m out in the park late in June.
Given such massive changes are at play in light and temperature, I find it strange that my world the cultural workweek – the times that are generally accepted to be office hours – doesn’t really change throughout the year. It is as if we are closing our eyes to the seasons, covering our ears and singing a song loudly so we can’t hear what they are saying to us.
I wonder if this ignoring of the seasons doesn’t actually cause us underlying stress and damage at both an individual and population level? Equivalent somehow to the long-term damage that increased cortisol levels cause in the bloodstream cause.
A seasonally-adjusted workweek for the office worker in the global north
How could a seasonally-adjusted workweek work?A seasonally adjusted workweek is nothing new. It is exactly how agricultural communities live and have lived historically. I am sure that there are many societies that exist today that maintain seasonal variation in their patterns. And no doubt many more that existed before they were destroyed by European empires exporting their Western work cultures.
And so I will confine my question a bit more: how could a seasonally-adjusted workweek work for an office worker in the global north?
Natural systems work at different rates at different times of year. There is no waste in nature: everything is reused. What if we arranged our organisational systems in a similar way?
An outline of a seasonally adjusted workweek
In winter the sun is low and there is little energy in the system. The little work that is done is hidden – underground, in the roots. Even the processes of decay are slow at this time of year. It is a time of rest ahead of the busyness of spring.
Maybe we need to rest more in the winter. Shorter times at work. More time with friends and family. Resting also the systems that we rely on in the busier times. Use the time to make plans for the spring, to slowly gather resources.
In the spring the work begins. From all quarters there is new life. This burgeoning spirit is almost intoxicating. New growth; terrific rates of change; transformation.
And so to us. The spring would be the time to grow new projects, put out new shoots. This is the first busy time of the year. Working longer hours to take advantage of the new abundance of energy. A virtuous circle of creating new which inspires more creation. This is when we enact the plans from the winter, build up from the strong roots we have tended in the quiet months.
As spring becomes summer, what once were new shoots are now fully grown branches. The intensity of the spring activity subsides as that new growth matures and in the long days that follow the plants and the trees bask in the sunlight, putting energy into the fruit that matures from now until autumn.
For us we can slow down the pace a bit in the summer, allowing the projects that we worked so hard to initiate in the spring to do their work. In the hottest days there is the opportunity to rest some more ahead of the activity of the next season.
Autumn is perhaps the season at which human and natural systems most closely align, for it is when we go back to work. Nature is harvesting the investment of spring which has become the bounty of summer. It is making hay while the sun still shines, and storing away fruit for darker days to come. And the work of decay also picks up pace. Important work to recycle the nutrients for the next spring.
And for us it is back to school – a feeling that is still so strong long after leaving formal education. Another busy time, but this time for harvesting. What have we produced in the year that we need to preserve, convert, look after? What can we learn – a different sort of harvesting. What can we decommission ready for the winter? What stocks do we need to build for the winter months? What do we need to let decay, breakdown, return to the ground?
Finally – but not finally, just once again – the winter months return. Back to quiet, low-energy work. We retreat indoors, we return to learning, reflecting, making schemes for the year ahead.
The seasons are such powerful contours in our ecosystems. What if we worked with the seasons instead of in-spite of them? I think it would have a great benefit to our wellbeing, and I think it would bring us one step closer to working with, rather than against nature.
For some spring time inspiration, tune in to the special dawn chorus episode of my podcast, recorded at Hazel Hill Wood.