At the beginning of 2020, Dublin resident Ruth Medgeber was working full time.
having finished an international tour with Hozier as official photographer, she was looking forward to a productive, if crazy, summer and her first international exhibition in Australia.
She was, in her own words, “ready to take off.” By now, we all know what happened in the summer of 2020, and Medjber’s best-laid professional plans turned out to be unfortunate.
“I’m not going to sugar coat it, it was incredibly depressing and incredibly disturbing,” Medjber says.
“I was confused and scared because two years of work had been canceled within two weeks. So, I found myself in crisis mode. I didn’t know how I was going to pay the mortgage. In fact, I thought, “Am I going to have to go back to my parents?”.
Necessity was the mother of invention for Medjber (ruthlessimagery.com), and during the pandemic, the photographer opened a printing house and published her first book Twilight togetherwith portraits of people at home during the lockdown.
By the time Ireland emerged from its many lockdowns, Medgeber was more than happy to get back to her work at live shows and events.
It’s certainly been tempting to return to work at the same pace as before, but she admits the pandemic has taught her to slow down. These days, Medjber is happy to work on projects that really bring her joy, and has slowed down to booking one corporate job a month.
A cycling accident in January also forced her to seriously rethink her work-life balance. “There’s nothing like a doctor telling you you were close to death to give you time to think,” she says. “I’m really trying to make my life worth living and try not to work so much anymore.
“I really want to slow down and reset, and I’m actively trying to do that,” she says. “I spent two years living off my savings, so I don’t have the luxury of going as slow as I want. But I remember that the idea for my book arose out of boredom, idleness and isolation.
“So I think if you’re making a living in a creative career, you really need to nurture boredom. I’m trying to force myself to be a little more sad, to slow down and sit with my thoughts.
“I got a great tip from a taxi driver a few years ago,” adds Medjber. “He sets himself a money goal every day and as soon as he reaches the goal, even if it’s 11 o’clock in the morning, he turns around and heads home. It’s such a healthy way of doing things, so I’m in the process of figuring out how much money I need to make to survive.”
Medjber isn’t the only one who decided to take a look at work-life balance post-correction. This year has clearly ushered in a new era of work in Ireland, from blended working environments to the digitization of roles.
The Health of the Nation 2022 report on Irish life, published in July, found that work-life balance had become significantly more important in the everyday lives of Irish adults, with 47% of respondents citing it as the most important aspect of their current role or type of work, followed by salary (30%); job satisfaction (14 pieces); flexible working from home (13%) and career and development prospects (7%).
In fact, the phenomenon of professional slowdown is so common that a whole new term has been born: “quiet pitching.”
The newly coined term refers to the phenomenon where workers work the hours they are contractually obligated to do and only do what the job specification calls for, without going beyond the scope of the role in terms of output or hours.
For professional workers who are accustomed to staying at their desks until the manager leaves, a quiet layoff means leaving at 5 p.m. promptly, forgoing extracurricular projects, and completing only those tasks that are asked of them.
A quiet resignation may indicate a worker’s desire to reclaim time and energy away from the office, but it’s also a damning indictment of a pre-Covid workplace culture where burnout and hustle were the norm rather than the exception.
According to Damien McCarthy, CEO of HR Buddy in Killarglin (HRBuddy.ie), it’s not just employees quietly resigning and reassessing their life priorities in a post-lockdown world.
Even before Covid hit Ireland, McCarthy felt an anxiety he couldn’t explain. Busy at work with three young children, his life was pretty much where he felt it should be.
“Fridays were busy and work often dragged on into Friday night,” he says. “I also had a lot on Monday morning and sometimes I had to get a head start and come back on Sunday night.
“I never felt relaxed on the weekend. There was this thing where you sat with the kids on a Saturday night and I would be thinking somewhere else. And if you’ve never switched off, you’ve never fully rested.’
McCarthy made the simple but highly effective decision to take half a day on Friday. That would mean switching off a little earlier and making a conscious effort to enjoy the weekend.
“Friday afternoon was such a bummer that people didn’t want to carry that baggage with them for the weekend, so at about 4:30 or 4:45 p.m. on Friday, an email would come in or the phone would ring,” he said. says. “I started telling myself it could wait until Monday.”
McCarthy notes that the “quiet exit” from his own business only served to increase his productivity – his family life also improved. Now he’s committed to helping others regain that work-life balance and slow down professionally. One simple initiative he suggests that has worked very well in some workplaces is “No Email Fridays,” where internal email is prohibited on Fridays.
“In general, things like a four-day work week or a hybrid of flexible work should be up to the individual,” he says. “Very often, [workplaces] land on a hybrid that works as a solution because it’s lucky wednesday. It’s worth noting that what works for one person may differ from someone else’s needs.
“Remote working can work really well for some people, but a certain demographic, like someone in their 20s who lives in a room or in the same house, might benefit from being in an office. In any case, we need to talk more about this topic between employees and bosses.”
Jane Downs, Author Book about career (clearviewcoachinggroup.com) is fascinated by the new vocabulary associated with the post-pandemic landscape.
“We had a big pause, then a big resignation, and now a big realization,” she says. “Often I can’t make it, but it’s all really great conversations, not least because it gets us thinking about your career and what it means to us.
“It’s about taking more control and making the job work for you, which is what I’ve always talked about. It’s not about avoiding work, it’s about living meaningfully.”
As a trainer, Downs has seen many of her clients reevaluate their hectic work schedule.
“So many people who work in a culture where you’re expected to work day and night and get spit on on the Sabbath are finally thinking, ‘Am I really about this now?'” she says.
“They’re raising their own standards and thinking there’s something more to life.” They’ve seen what a slowdown looks like, and they understand that they can do their work in a less intense format.”
Downes herself decided to reassess her own career last year: “Before Covid, my day was [so busy], there were moments when I couldn’t go to the toilet.” – she says. “And it started to affect my health. The pandemic was horrible, but I enjoyed the space of reading, regrouping, and figuring out what to do.
“My husband and I immediately backed off, and it worked for us personally. I still love working on-site in organizations, but now we do things in moderation. We’re all about keeping this ship steady.”