Rest Is a Movement Strategy
By Josephine Kalipeni
I haven’t set a great example for my team. Nine months into becoming the executive director of, but almost two years with, Family Values at Work, I’m just now taking a vacation where my fullest intentions are to unplug. Despite my own personal commitments, I work 6.8 days a week. And I’ve mastered scheduling emails. Every time I’ve considered taking real time off, something comes up — a call, an urgent funder meeting, a fire to put out, idiotic SCOTUS rulings that require a response, or continued stalemates in the federal government that need to be shamed. Or maybe it’s the pressure of taking on this new role in an amazing organization that needs to shift this year to be ready for the work of 2023. Or maybe it’s the internal guilt of feeling like paid time off is a privilege since so many don’t get it or because the well-being of millions of families depends on our strategy, work, and success.
But that’s just it. Everything is urgent. Everything is a priority. And everything needs to be handled now. Our culture of work, even within the nonprofit industrial complex, is built on white supremacy and capitalism. It’ll always demand more from laborers like us — more time, more strategy, more resources, more thinking, more work. All while expecting us to idolize and celebrate burnout as if the only way to measure commitment is by working ourselves to exhaustion. The truth is, there’s no badge for burnout. Our culture won’t value rest. It won’t value time with loved ones as time well spent. There’s no work-life balance. We do work. And we do life. And they’re intertwined, often blurring where one seamlessly feeds the other — through resources and also in inspiration.
I value rest. I value joy. The two are deeply connected for me. I have a deep commitment to dismantle the narrow way we define and value work. After all, our definition of work wasn’t meant to benefit us, the workers. But I have to be responsible for holding and demonstrating the boundaries and practices of what valuing and what redefining work look like for myself and for my staff, with the hopes that we learn models that we can share with others. If we don’t value rest and set in place new practices to codify the connection between rest and good workers, we have nothing to show others.
This isn’t absent from moving work or being accountable for our work. It’s part of our work. We, at Family Values at Work, are committed to a world where workers can heal, rest, and just be without being financially destabilized in the process. And it’s important that we rest together. I’ve noticed the pressure that people feel when they’re off from work and others aren’t. I see it time and time again: People answer emails when they’re supposed to be off from work. The fear-drenched cost-benefit analysis we do when deciding whether to respond to work demands while we’re off and our oppressive work practices that make us think that we’ll be judged as lazy or not as committed are real.
But we have to rest. Rest cultivates renewal, creativity, and passion. We have to do this in a way that doesn’t replicate oppressive practices, honors our workers, and still gets good work done. So we’ve instituted a four-day workweek. We’re staffing up to reduce the number of hats one worker wears. And we’re experimenting with regular, full weeks off for all staff — something that I hope becomes a quarterly practice for us in 2023. During our time off, staff members are encouraged to put on their away message, pause their email, mute notifications, and/or remove apps from their phones altogether. Staff is committed to holding each other accountable for being off, which may mean ignoring emails or gently reminding each other to not be working.
One day we won’t have to write blogs or provide explanations as to why we’re resting. One day, rest will be grounded in all movement work, and we’ll permit ourselves to take breaks, rest, heal, be joyful, and rejuvenate more often. We want a world where we can thrive on our own terms. I want us to be good people doing good work in a good way. Collective rest is a right and a necessary pathway to the world we want to see.
Some things I’ve read lately:
Here’s the Secret Reason Companies Make You Work from “9 to 5”
The Racist Roots of Work Requirements (pages 4–8)
A Note on Funding Women of Color Movement Leaders to Pause
Josephine Kalipeni is the executive director of Family Values @ Work. Follow her on Twitter at @malawian81.