The story goes that a group of researchers did an experiment involving a few monkeys, a cage, a ladder and some bananas. These researchers would put five monkeys in the cage, put the ladder inside and, at the top of the ladder, the bananas. Instinctively, the monkeys tried to climb the ladder to get the bananas. Every time a monkey climbed up, however, the researchers splashed it with water. The monkey came down in a panic. The next monkey went up, was splashed, came down, and so on until no monkey tried to climb again.
Then the researchers took out a monkey and replaced it with a new one. This one rushed up the ladder but the others pulled it down, explaining that it was dangerous. The researchers took out one monkey at a time and introduced a new one at a time until the group had none of the original monkeys left. But the new ones weren’t climbing the ladder either. They all followed the rules passed on by the first ones, although they were no longer sprayed with water.
One way of interpreting the story is the beaten path. We follow the path handed down to us by others without questioning the modus operandi. Like the monkeys in the experiment, we humans follow beaten paths. That’s “the way it’s done”, that’s the way it’s always been, the unwritten laws say so, and so on.
I’ll give some examples of how we do things:
The 5-day work week – here’s a topic that has started to come up in the last 2-3 years. In the middle of the 19th century there was a movement to reduce working time. People demanded 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure, 8 hours of rest. Most countries have adopted this formula, which continues into the 21st century. For some countries, such as Romania, and some generations, the five-day working week was a breakthrough. Until December 1989 in our country the working week was 6 days, sometimes even 7 – it is probably one of the vivid memories for many who caught the communist regime.
But we have seen many changes in the professions in recent years. Many don’t work according to these patterns. Fields like medicine, hospitality, transport, IT support work around the clock. In other fields, employees don’t need to be at work between certain hours, flexible working hours have become necessary. When the basics of integrity, fairness, ethics are present, on the part of the employee and the employer, the potential for increased well-being, satisfaction, productivity, increases. Of course, when these foundations are not met, trust declines. I often hear of situations where a manager calls a member of their team during the day and they are at a massage, out for a walk, out shopping, in another location, even though they were supposed to be at a long-established online meeting or delivering something quickly. On the other hand, organisations can also impose a way of working that is not always sustainable. For example, when one person has to be in three online meetings at the same time, or when they have to take over the work of another who has left, it’s not really fair practice. These behaviours erode trust and, lo and behold, the rules of physical presence in the office emerge.
Globally, there has been a study on the four-day working week. For this study, 61 companies agreed to work four days a week for six months in 2022. The results of the study showed that the four-day work week significantly reduced stress levels, cases of illness, burnout, sick leave situations decreased. Interestingly for the employer, there was also no impact on turnover.
The way new generations relate to work, to career, is different from how baby boomers, generation X or even Y used to think. We will probably see in the future a 3-day work week, people having various part-time collaborations, maybe even several careers in their lifetime. Especially in the context of increased life expectancy globally, where many jobs disappear and new ones emerge, a more flexible approach to careers will be needed.
We sleep 8 hours – or so we are told by various global organisations.
But there are researchers who argue that the idea of eight hours actually comes from the British Industrial Revolution movement, which supported the pattern I wrote about above: 8 hours work, 8 hours rest and 8 hours leisure.
But not all people need eight hours of sleep. Some recharge their batteries in 5-6 hours, some in 4, some need 9-10.
At the end of the day, it’s important to pay attention to what works for us, what our own body needs and behave accordingly.
I’ll give a personal example: I have an Oura ring that I wear on my finger at night. It’s connected to my phone. Among other data, I can see in the morning what the quality of sleep has been and how rested my body is, how ready it is for the day ahead. I noticed that sometimes, even though I had slept 9 hours, the quality of sleep was not good, my ability to cope with the challenges of the day was low. It had been a hectic few days, where I had not been able to detach, to solve some problems as I wanted to.
Of course, a sceptic will tell you, here’s a new item that ‘helps’ to increase your anxiety: the Oura ring with the results indicated by it. Depends on how I relate to the results. Right now, they tell me it’s time for a break, for detachment activities, for getting out of the everyday so I can reposition myself, put everything in perspective.
We need to take 10,000 steps a day. That’s what the books, the studies, the doctors tell us. The rebellious child would ask: why so many and not 7,000 or 11,000? Because someone promoted this idea at some point? Because it’s fashionable now to have instruments to measure the number of steps taken each day?
I have a colleague who doesn’t even walk 2,000 steps. But he plays tennis every day, some weekends two matches. My mentor swims quite a lot every day: 30 pools. Others are keen horse riders. Others have a dog that they walk 2-3 times a day, so they get some exercise too.
We drink 2 litres of water – why two and not one and a half or 3? What if someone needs 2.5?
I have a friend who drinks a maximum of 2 glasses of water daily. But she looks great, full of energy, enthusiasm, has enviable skin.
On the other hand, I drink a lot of tea, all kinds: white, green, blue, sometimes black or red. How much tea? I have periods with 8-10 cups while at the office. Tea is probably to me what cigarettes are to others: a micro-addiction. On top of that, about a litre of water at home, 2-3 cups of coffee. I’m way over the two litres.
Of course, that comes with other needs that I won’t write about here. But I think it’s important from this point of view also to pay attention to our own body’s needs, to what’s good for us, to adjust, eliminate or reduce what doesn’t benefit us.
A rule does not work the same for everyone. Expert recommendations are benchmarks against which everyone adjusts. We are not the same, what works for one person will not necessarily work for others.
We live in a world that seems to be obsessed with measurements, targets and following them strictly. I’m not arguing that it’s not good to have benchmarks; when they become obsessive, when we end up stressing about not drinking enough water, not reaching 10,000 steps a day, not meditating, not getting 8 hours of sleep, then we use those standards against ourselves.