It was May 2013 when Sergio Marchionne gave a speech at Bocconi University, which was met with general approval. He told about August’s visit to Fiat headquarters and how, seeing that the offices were abandoned or almost deserted, he was told that people were “on vacation”. An affirmation to which Marchionne, in his opinion, replied scourging, “On vacation for what?”
Less than ten years have passed, and it is worth noting that the perception of this joke has completely turned upside down. He showed a clear irritation with a certain “bureaucratic” way of understanding work and was very successful at the time, possibly because he could interpret the growing guilt and desire to be redeemed from a certain Italian “laziness” he perceived. “Today – this is my hypothesis, but which I am quite sure – if it were repeated by some important manager and politician, it would be the subject of vehement criticism of the need and even the right to limit work and go on vacation.
What changed? In 2013, we were fully rebounded from the long crisis that began in 2008, on the peak of the second (or third?) Big wave of digital optimism. Perhaps we have been experiencing the last glories of an imported “American dream”: the idea that with commitment and in a system that rewards merit, you can build a successful life. And this “success” in the minds of many translated primarily into wealth, and then into the public admiration that comes from showing it off. Work, then, was the means; “Incremental factor,” in the sense that the more you have done it, the more likely you are to do it.
Today it seems we are not so sure anymore. And this is due to various factors. First of all, the gradual disappearance of clear boundaries between work and “life”. While in the past a clear and clear separation between working time and “free time” was an absolutely dominant practice, today it is no longer the case. Of course, workers and clerks working from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday, still predominate, but the number of “knowledge workers” has increased significantly. clever or efficient work, they don’t know exactly when to ‘disconnect’. And that’s why for them even holidays are crowded with e-mails, notifications and phone calls.
The latter are also often staunch defenders of the “incremental” work rhetoric we mentioned earlier. Perhaps they’ve seen “spare time” enter the company in the form of ping-pong tables or five-person soccer, and now feel they need to compensate for it by bringing work into their “life.” The “forced” introduction of remote work during the pandemic was perhaps the perfect “Trojan horse”: now, to prove their efficiency, professionalism and dedication at work, these people may feel even more obliged to work continuously and outside of working hours, which is why it has become more flexible and “self-governing”.
However, for these workers, the real problem is not the betrayal of the concept of life and work that they have fully embraced to guide their career choices, and often their public behavior as well. A concept, as we said, “performative” that strives for excellence and believes in success as a deserved child who sees faith in “passion for work”, and holidays can also be an effective “positioning signal”. A photo from an exotic beach, studied for a few minutes, published on Instagram, energizing sports activity told on LinkedIN, sometimes reduces holidays to exercise virtue signalingas if to say, “Look what I can do, me, a person who has succeeded thanks to my talent and hard work.”
The risk to these people is burn out, that is, mental as well as physical work overload due to the inability to disconnect; to stop being always dependent on the approval of others. Or the slow and progressive detachment between public image and private concept that can even lead to serious identity crises, trying to keep this “double life” together, which is also increasingly unstable in the balance between “work” and “personal”. “.
But, as we said, they are a minority – albeit very “vocal” and much more capable of directing public debate. Most people see a vacation as a long-awaited moment when you can put aside often tiring, if not strenuous work, being able to exclude all possible tasks or tasks associated with it for a while. These people, unlike the previous group, believe and profess a complete and irreconcilable difference between working time and free time, but recently their beliefs are also shaking.
Many of these people dream of “living on vacation”: their unattainable ideal is an endless “rest”. But holidays make sense if they are a break or a reward for activity. If vacations are seen as an occasional reward for months spent in frustrating or hateful work, you may only be dissatisfied because, at best, you’ll spend most of your time doing something unpleasant. In short, the clear separation of “life” and “work” risks associating the latter with death: something necessary but intrinsically and deeply unpleasant that ultimately conditions all existence.
Even in this case, the pandemic has likely been a breakout for many. For those who simply saw the workplace closed due to blockade or layoffs, without the possibility of remote work, the scenario was a suspension in the daily (or even annual) routine, less painful than unemployment because it is more common but more disturbing holidays because there were unusual, and their end was unknown. Perhaps this allowed many to finally be alone with themselves and realize that a job is needed (life on vacation can be very boring!). But it can’t just be an unpleasant duty.
So what new meaning do you give to vacation – and therefore work? Perhaps accepting the fact that one can no longer count on being able to defend a clear separation of working time from time off at all costs, but at the same time giving up the idea of a vacation as a “positional asset” or an activity that should be programmed as a career goal to be pursued with determination . Perhaps we could and should begin to develop a more flexible and “continuous” relationship between “work” and “life” by looking at what we do for pleasure and duty as two sides of the same coin throughout our lives; or – better still – two “currents” that are intertwined in the same stream.
Finally, maybe we should rediscover boredom a little. Whether you are at work or on vacation, resist the temptation to stay in constant contact, to take advantage of the thousands of opportunities and entertainment that are offered to us to “fill our time”. Well-cultivated boredom can be a source of great creativity and clarity. Anthropological studies they seem to suggest that in the pre-agricultural tribes a lot of time was spent “doing nothing” (at least seemingly). Perhaps reclaiming those moments of reflection with yourself could be the first step to discovering a new meaning in our work and life.