Samuel Taylor Coleridge noted that “summer has set in with its usual severity.” But seriously, most of us welcome these days of escape from the harsh winter months. We explore the chance to unwind, to read, swim, relax or enjoy summer activities.
But there has been plenty of research released in recent years that reveals how ambivalent, even hostile, many workplaces are about the warm months. Why? Because they supposedly make us lazy and the capitalistic mind views that as a rival to work productivity. We aren’t surprised to learn that on inclement days we are more hesitant to head outside, choosing instead to stay at our desk or tasks. One Japanese study discovered that businesses could get 30-minutes of extra toil from workers on miserable days.
And then Harvard University came out with an extensive study enforcing this insight. As the New Yorker magazine noted:
“The researchers found that participants were less productive when they’d viewed pleasant outdoor photographs. Instead of focussing on their work, they focussed on what they’d rather be doing—whether or not it was actually sunny or rainy outside (though the effect was stronger on sunny days). The mere thought of pleasant alternatives made people concentrate less.”
Is this really any surprise? Most of us sense our energies depleting in hot months and seek relaxation as a result. Yet in one podcast I listened to on Canada Day, I heard an entrepreneur billionaire complain that summer costs businesses money and that workers wake up to the fact that it was time for them to get less summer holidays and to spend more time at work to make up for their lack of summer productivity.
This is ever the way things are going these days, as the free market continues its rabid pursuit of the bottom line and wealth chases itself around the world. Fearing for their jobs, workers are being increasingly forced to trade some peace of mind for a precarious form of job security.
We are naturally structured to adapt to the seasons and we’ve been doing it for millennia. Employment productivity is merely one part of our lives and the need to regroup, to unwind, to recharge the batteries, to connect with others and to become inspired by other things besides money is essential to our mental health. When research reveals that people become more distracted in summer weather, there’s a reason for that response, whether corporate leaders wish to acknowledge it or not. That same research finds that people become increasingly happier as the days and nights get warmer and that contentment erodes once days get shorter and darker. The best season for that is summer and it’s only right that we fight for our own place within it.
Summer days can be about many things – relaxation, introspection, refinement, sports, family and friends, meditation, personal growth – but in an era when workers are being pressured to a destructive degree they must also become days of rebellion. It’s not just our own peace of mind we are fighting for but a society that places the growth of the human spirit above all else. Actually, that’s likely better said by Oriana Green: “I am Summer, come to lure you away from your computer… come dance on my fresh grass, dig your toes into my beaches.” Sometimes such things become acts of defiance and we have every responsibility to become the defiant ones.