Working from home has plenty of benefits, as millions of workers have discovered since the pandemic lockdowns. But WFH has blurred – make that erased – the line between “at work” and “at home.” Without a clean break, it’s much harder for you to relax and be present for your family during the evening. Remember commuting? Even if you hated your commute home from the office, it had one valuable benefit: it was a buffer to help you transition out of your “at work” mode.

As always, the Germans have a word that describes this important transition: feierabend. (Pronounced fire-AAH-bund.) It’s defined both as quitting time and the period between work and sleep; there’s no equivalent in other languages. Historically, German farmers were called out of the fields by the ringing of church bells, signaling it was time to go home for rest and prayer. Industrialization at the start of the 20th century brought long hours in poorly lit factories and a related decline in health and wellbeing. Workers advocated strongly for the right to a longer period of rest and rejuvenation before reporting the next day.

Company owners and managers agreed, thinking of time off in the evening as a way to increase productivity. They advised workers to use their free time to achieve “real rest.” Recommendations included taking walks outdoors, attending religious services, and other activities that restored body and spirit. The concept is still important to Germans; holidays and Sundays are known as Feiertage, or “rest day,” and protected under German employment law as “days of rest from work and of spiritual elevation.”

Germans have a reputation as being an extremely efficient workforce, and employment experts believe the culture of efficiency on the job comes from the desire to switch off completely come quitting time. Feierabend acknowledges that maintaining high performance on the job requires a period of rest and recovery.

American workers are notoriously bad about taking time off. As a workforce, we leave millions of hours of paid time off on the table each year (768 million days in 2018), mostly attributable to our over the top work ethic. According to a Washington Post article, “more than half of U.S. workers ― 54 percent — reported feeling guilty about taking vacation time either sometimes, often or always, according to a survey of more than 2,000 full-time workers in the U.S. by TurnKey Vacation Rentals.” Fifty-five percent of workers report not using all their vacation days, and 70 percent of workers who did take vacation admitted to checking in on work at least once.

Making a clean break from work takes discipline. Technology makes staying connected to the office seamless. Burnout is a serious issue for workers, especially freelancers and those who transitioned abruptly to working from home during the pandemic. Ironically, staying in work mode can cause stress that will take a toll on your mental and physical health. So eventually, if you don’t take intentional time off for leisure, you’ll wind up taking unintentional time off because you’re sick.

Creating a ritual to disconnect from work mode at the end of the day is an essential practice if you want to maintain your edge. Changing into comfortable clothes, exercising or taking a walk after work, even a short period of meditation will help you make the transition to relaxation mode. Let’s encourage each other to make feierabend a part of our culture, too.

Published by candacemoody

Candace’s background includes Human Resources, recruiting, training and assessment. She spent several years with a national staffing company, serving employers on both coasts. Her writing on business, career and employment issues has appeared in the Florida Times Union, the Jacksonville Business Journal, the Atlanta Journal Constitution and 904 Magazine, as well as several national publications and websites. Candace is often quoted in the media on local labor market and employment issues.

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