Why busy executives need planned rest

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WELCOME to our special monthly series called Bible School Business School (BSBS).

The Human Capital Telescope

BSBS, now in its second year, searches for deep insights from the Bible pertaining to business, strategic human resources (talent, leadership and culture) and personal development.

This month, the idea that to optimise productivity, busy executives need to deliberately plan for periods of rest will be pursued, not only for themselves, but also for others and the physical environment.

Contemporary management practice has established the concept of a sabbatical. Sabbatical, as a management practice today refers to fairly long vacation leave period. It also takes on several related but lesser known meanings; retreat, time-out, time off, vacation and holiday.

The very term sabbatical originates from the Hebrew culture as recorded in the Bible. As such, there is merit in tracing the origins and development of the sabbatical concept in the Bible. Sabbatical is derived from two Hebrew words shabath and shabbath.

The term shabath simply means to repose or desist from exertion. Shabbath means intermission, pause or rest. The question, naturally, would be: rest from what? Simple, it’s rest from work.

Three ideas always train the sabbatical concept as depicted in the Bible.

Sabbatical versus renewal
It is intriguing to know that God Himself is portrayed in the Bible as a God who rests. If God rests, what more the mere mortal executive! Exodus 31:17 (NKJV) spells out the benefit of taking a shabbath: “…for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.”

It is the refreshed aspect of this verse that links the shabbath and renewal.

The term refreshed as used here is rendered naphash in Hebrew, which means to breathe upon. You may want to note that to breathe upon means one and the same thing as inspiration. There you are; taking a shabbath allows one to gain fresh insights and perspectives about issues.

To get the entire picture, it is important not to miss the point that this stepping aside from work should be systematic and rhythmical. Done this way, planned episodes of repose from work will ensure one is ‘breathed upon’. This is a takeaway our busy executives should not throw away.

Sabbatical versus productivity
In Hebrew culture, the sabbatical was an institution that was far-reaching with deeper meaning than what many may realise.

There were broadly two kinds of sabbaticals, weekly and seventh-year.

Leviticus 25: 3-5 (NKJV) explains the practice of the seventh-year shabbath: “Six years you shall sow your field, and six years you shall prune your vineyard, and gather its fruit; but in the seventh year there shall be a sabbath of solemn rest for the land, a sabbath to the Lord.

You shall neither sow your field nor prune your vineyard. What grows on its own accord of your harvest you shall not reap, nor gather the grapes of your untended vine, for it is a year for the rest of the land.”

As can be seen, the concept of shabbath extended beyond people to touch on the means of production.

Thus in the ancient Hebrew culture, land also needed to take a one year vacation after every six years, evidently, to allow regeneration and revitalised productivity.

The link between rest and increased productivity is clearly stated in Leviticus 25:21-22 (NKJV): “Then I will command My blessing on you in the sixth year, and it will bring forth produce enough for three years. And you shall sow in the eighth year; until its produce comes in, you shall eat of the old harvest.”

Both the people and land benefitted from the year-long rest.

It is all too easy to lose sight of the fact that the shabbath had an element of environmental responsibility. Well before the contemporary world woke up to the need to foster an environmental responsibility culture, the shabbath institution of old had always been espousing those values.

That land, as generic term for the physical environment, needs to go on a sabbatical is no longer a strange concept, given the world’s heightened awareness of issues such as global warming.

Sabbatical versus SR
Packaged within the seventh-year shabbath institution is social responsibility (SR). Leviticus 25:6 (NKJV) states clearly the case for meaningful periods of rest for workers: “And the sabbath produce of the land shall be for you: for you, your male and female servant, your hired man, and the stranger who dwells with you.”

Even domestic animals had to take a shabbath! Exodus 20:8 (second part, NKJV) could not be any clearer: “…In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger who is within your gates.”

That’s how holistic the social responsibility advanced by the shabbath institution is.

The weekly shabbath pushes the same idea. Employers have a responsibility to advance social justice by provisioning for meaningful periods of rest for every employee in order to strengthen social and familial ties.

As the shabbath institution shows, planned periods of rest strengthens a nation’s social fabric and at the same time increases the productivity of both workers and the means of production.

Uninformed business leaders grudgingly award employees leave days. At the most, many company leave policies give employees the barest minimum vacation leave days required at law. There is a business case for crafting innovative practices around leave days to stimulate productivity.

In short, the shabbath institution says “work mighty hard and rest.”

Reflect on it
Smart business executives do simple things that others see as unimportant. Generous but planned vacation time for all employees is a simple way of enhancing productivity.

Chulu is a strategic HR consultant who is pioneering innovative strategic HR practices in listed and unlisted companies in Zimbabwe — brettchulu@consultant.com

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