Perhaps in lieu of the toxic fug that haunted our childhoods on the Mersey estuary, the local authorities saw fit to grant us youngsters a few hours’ R&R every Wednesday morning.
This was back in the 1990s.
And when I say ‘respite’, what I actually mean is a filthy game of rugby in biting cold winds, during Mr Buckton’s double P.E at the comprehensive school I attended. But at least it was outdoors, it was exercise — communal, and theoretically in the spirit of enrichment (albeit only for sadists).
In the shadow of Widnes’ thousand chimneys, belching ominously transparent gases more or less directly into our lungs, Wednesday mornings were a mental pause for teacher and pupil alike, punctuating the tribulations and tedium of another week at the National Curriculum’s coalface.
Wellbeing Wednesday (working title)
By sixth form, wellbeing Wednesday was even higher on the agenda, meaning study leave or recreation. For some, it meant catching-up with yourself after a busy Monday/Tuesday. For driving lessons, or to socialise. For others, it meant inhaling lighter fluid behind the 5th Widnes Scout hut, giggling incessantly at crude knob graffiti.
Beyond the stench of Merseyside, at university, wellbeing Wednesday seemed like a permanent, eminently sensible hook to hang your week upon. Why wouldn’t you want a spacious, midweek afternoon to decompress, rest, tie-up loose ends, switch-off or nourish the mind with knowledge?
Yet for some reason, once I got a job — once I was a grown-up, it all ended. No more Wednesday breakouts.
Being a grow-up is shit
These days, with adult commitments, dwindling energy and increasing demands placed upon it — that midweek circuit breaker (to coin a phrase) is practically a necessity. Not just for crucial errands, but our actual bodily health, the welfare of our families, communities and culture at work.
Hard evidence suggests poor mental health costs UK employers up to £45 million a year, and we’re already losing on average about 20 days every year, per person, because of stress, burnout and workplace-related depression and anxiety. And research from 2012 revealed half of working Americans said they were always rushed, and 70 percent felt they never had enough time.
So there’s a compelling case for ring-fencing space for active wellbeing, or encouraging folk to at least unwind, right smack-bang in the middle of the week when life often gets a bit too serious and stressful. Just unplugging digitally for a while, or putting things on pause to check-in with ourselves and our circles might be a start.
Or look at it this way. Maybe Wednesday is time to be learners again. Open-minded, reckless, irresponsible and curious. For just a few hours, we get a little space to play with — a gap between being a serious grown-up, most of the time.
Downtime doesn’t have to be productive (that’s sort of the point)
Putting wellbeing pride-of-place, midweek, like a stake through the heart of 9–5 presenteeism culture (which is often more onerous when working remotely, I’m told) would be quite a symbolic commitment, wouldn’t it?
What if, by mutual agreement, we all came to an understanding — that every Wednesday AM or PM, we allowed ourselves a bit of a breather, to enrich ourselves — however we see fit?
Sure, some might indulge, but I’ve a feeling many of us would (eventually) pick up an old hobby, launch a side-hustle, or look into that training we’ve been toying with. Kind of like many of us (lucky ones) have already been doing during lockdown with our sourdoughs, fitness and crafts.
This would be paid, of course
Because happier, healthier people are more productive people. It’s proven — no matter how counter-intuitive it might feel to slacken the leash by reducing people’s working hours. I’ve seen this happen over and over again, back when I wrote case studies on novel working practices at some of the world’s leading progressive organisations.
Dare I say it, but could we have in our midst, a ready-made, tentative stepping stone to the self-evidently sensible four-day week too? There’s often no demonstrable gain in human output, yet significantly, none is lost — indicating something deeply dysfunctional is afoot in the way we run (ran?) our working lives.
What would change look like?
For some reason, once we turn 18, space for growth and freeing-up our minds ceases to be a priority. It’s as if we collectively decide it’s time to get on with the important job of being perpetually busy, stressed, and emotionally and physically unwell grown-ups. Because that’s real-life and that’s just the way things are.
To which I respond is it? Who said so?
So what would change look like for you? What would you do with a formal, midweek circuit-breaker? I’ve known coaching clients to exercise, dig, lose their phone, walk, talk, try something new, or simply stare into space for an hour or two.
Perhaps we might scale up wellbeing Wednesday for all — a tried-and-tested idea, one that’s a straight-forward up-sell to the cynics, and one within easy reach.
Just an idea. And it’s not all that crazy, apparently. What do you think?