We’re days from the end of the Kiwi school holidays. Growing up in Colorado, USA, the holidays revolved around family, gift exchanges and hope for the year ahead. I’d see my father, aunts, uncles and cousins leave family gatherings early or show up late because of work. I was 17 years when I too joined this procession of family members who were required to prioritize work over family time. From the ages of 17 to 25 I did what the majority of working-class people in the States do during the holiday season: work extended shifts to keep up with endless consumer demand, and send a present to my family members rather than being present myself. I’d arrive at each new year mentally exhausted.
The topic of mental wellbeing and overall wellness has recently been at the forefront of the Health IT sector. Like me, you’ll have seen the growing number of wellness apps, programs and peripheries available. Collectively, they show a commitment to workforce wellbeing. Over the past year, though, I heard the same questions over and over again: how effective are these tools? How can they compete with other distractions? What about work demands, family responsibilities and our daily diet of social/unsocial media? I don’t think there are perfects solution to these questions, but I do place great value in New Zealand’s approach to work-life balance.
This is best demonstrated by the Kiwi summer lull. On moving to New Zealand in 2014, I found this period – between Christmas and the second week of January – to be disorienting. Most workers in America receive less than two weeks of paid leave a year. You can see how experiencing the Christmas holiday in New Zealand was a wide departure from what I’d come to know. The Kiwi summer slowdown has been… liberating.
For anyone who might be reading this from a non-Kiwi lens, staff here are encouraged to take time off to spend with friends and family, to enjoy the four observed public holidays and to reflect on the year that has passed. This time of the year sees an entire nation engage in a social contract that puts the wellbeing of the nation ahead of economic growth and consumer demand. It seems to me that the Kiwi Christmas holiday does what the western ideal of the season aspires.
As we approach the end of January and look back on everything that has happened in 2020, I can’t help but breath a sigh of relief and give thanks for where I am in the world. I’m grateful to be an adopted Kiwi, and for the social values that prioritise mental wellbeing and work-life balance. For anyone who needs a reminder – like I did – you get to shape your own story. This starts with your wellbeing and your work-life balance.
21 January 2021