THE FACT OF THE MATTER
As we throw rolled-up sweet wrappers at each other across the newsroom floor, the production editor says to me: “Is it really that time again – another bank holiday?”
We are discussing what I will write about for this column. “Well I’m of the school of thought that all work and no play makes Paul a dull boy or, in modern-day parlance, heading for another burnout.”
The last wrapper gets me on the nose.
Since this year’s new public holiday, St Brigid’s Day – on the first Monday of February except when Brigee’s day falls on a Friday and that will be the public holiday – brings us to a total of 10 public holidays and more in line with the rest of Europe, where the number stands at about 10 to 14 a year. Some countries such as Slovakia have an even higher number, with 15 public holidays. France, 16.
What all these bank holidays actually mean for workers and employers and who’s entitled to what and how prepared are employers for these days – especially this only getting back on their feet after the pandemic I’ll leave for another day’s debate. But, hang on, what’s the difference between a bank and a public holiday? Nothing, really. They’re effectively the same thing. Technically, bank holidays are days on which banks are closed that are not necessarily nationally observed holidays. But, sure nowadays the banks are closed or shut up altogether most of the time.
Richard Boyd Barrett, of People Before Profit, believes bank holidays make for a happier, more productive workforce. The TD says such holidays would help people suffering from work-related stress. “I actually think wellbeing and mental health are huge issues,” he says. “A happy workforce is a productive workforce and I think too many people are stressed out and I would re-emphasise that all we are suggesting is that the number of bank holidays be even further increased to the EU average.”
Deputy Boyd Barrett says workers “have gone through a hell of a lot during the Covid pandemic” and suggests extra bank and public holidays would go some way towards ‘rewarding’ them.
After an endless three years of Working From Home and juggling home schooling with other, caring responsibilities, is it any wonder most of us feel like a pile of smouldering ashes? What we need is a break. Ideally, another bank holiday. And yet another.
Roll, the music from John Carpenter’s The Fog. Burnout. A bespoke-suited worker, stumbling through town at dawn, his eyes blank and exhausted. A doctor, a nurse at the end of an endless shift, the lines from their face masks dark and draining. And then, the rest of us, everyone who has stumbled their way through the past three years, trying desperately to find, eh, ‘something of value’. Everyone else who has tried to hold on to jobs while trying to look after their families and trying to stay physically healthy in ways that didn’t make them mentally unhealthy, and trying to manage their frustration, and so on.
Work-related ‘burnout’ was added to the ICD-11 (International Classification of Diseases) in 2019, and is defined by the World Health Organisation as an occupational phenomenon that results from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”. People suffering from it report “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion”, and “feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job” as well as “reduced professional efficacy, or ability to be effective at their jobs”.
So, yes, bring it on. The May 1 bank holiday.
But, what then? What happens the following day, when we return to our desks refreshed after a day endlessly looking at our phones? We’re back to sending emails at dawn to show we are present, that we exist, updating shared documents at midnight to show we are indispensable and, eh, really quite clever.
As a newspaper man all my working life, I seldom enjoyed the luxury of bank holidays. The paper still had to come out. (In fairness I was very handsomely rewarded for working those shifts).
And, anyway, I don’t like Mondays, bank holiday Mondays. All that running around trying to do something, anything, with partner or children because… well, you just have to do something because you have the day off. Yippee! And the hordes down the pub, the excess drinking and over-jollification, and the noise. People who never darken the pub doorstep any other day of the year. Spoiling it for the professional imbibers.
No, thanks. I think I’ll just stay in bed on Monday, May 1…