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Reclaiming the Sabbath for rest could reduce work anxiety says Christian think tank

by Donna Birrell

The biblical idea of Sabbath is an ancient answer to modern anxieties, according to a new report from the Christian think tank, Theos

“Just work, Humanising the Labour market in a changing world” by Paul Bickley and Barbara Ridpath, says the pandemic has intensified working practices with people spending more hours at their desks or responding to work emails and that employees are increasingly expected to work unpaid overtime.

Describing current working practices as “dehumanising” the authors say the pandemic should be an opportunity for societies to think about what they value highly. 

As part of the research, they conducted polling with YouGov on perceptions around work and found that 33% agreed that “work is just a way of earning to provide for life’s necessities,” compared to 16% who agreed that “I feel that in work I’m doing things that are really meaningful” and just 10% who agreed that “I believe my current work is part of my calling and vocation”.

The authors say attitudes towards work are clear in Christianity: “Genesis makes clear that we are made in the image of the Divine Worker, and St Paul writes to the Thessalonians to remind them to keep working, despite their belief in the imminent return of Christ. Perhaps you could sum up the Christian pro–work stance most simply like this: Work is not just necessary but good: it connects us to prosperity, to community, and gives meaning."

Paul Bickley told Premier the report hopes to encourage attitudes towards work that are informed by a Christian idea of what it is to be human: 

“Biblically speaking, we want to say that the work is a profoundly human thing to do. But we have to acknowledge human vulnerability, as well. One of the things that we have said in the report is that the last year has really broken the link between workplace and work for many people, and that means that we can be in a situation where we're always on.

"And because the link between workplace work time and the work we do has been severed, we can find ourselves in that situation where we really lacked rest and opportunity to turn off. And that's bad for people's mental health.

"One of the arguments we're making is that it's really important for us to re-integrate a principle of Sabbath and rest into our economy.”

Recommendations include giving more support for unpaid but essential forms of work; 

Finding ways to “eliminate at least some of the vast quantity of unpaid overtime in the economy”;

Countering the culture of overwork by recovering shared practices of rest.

Paul Bickley says rediscovering the principle of the Sabbath can take many different forms:

“In the last 2030 years having dumped that principle of Sabbath, we need to find a way of recovering it. And that could take a very contemporary form, it could take the form of a right to switch off, which some people are calling for, it could take the form of more Bank Holidays.

"So we're not necessarily talking about literally saying no work on a Sunday. But what we do say is that those practices need to be shared, they can't be left up to kind of individual decision, because all the gravitational pull is towards switching that laptop on and getting a few emails out or spending an extra hour in in the office to get those tasks done.”

The report is being launched online on Tuesday 20th July at 4pm. 

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