29 May 2018

Have we forgotten how to relax?

Blaming a corporation for being profit-oriented, nasty and full of gossip is only an excuse, says psychologist Roman Cieślak -- it’s not the corporation that's so bad, it's the people in it.

Wysokie Obcasy
Agnieszka Jucewicz Wysokie Obcasy, Global
Have we forgotten how to relax? - NewsMavens
Woman relaxing, PixaBay

--The following are fragments from Agnieszka Jucewicz’s interview with psychologist Roman Cieślak. The original appeared in Polish in the weekly “Wysokie Obcasy”.

Agnieszka Jucewicz: A psychology magazine has recently devoted its entire issue to “Relaxation Classes.” Have we forgotten how to relax? Do we need to re-learn this? What's next, “Breathing Tutorials”?

Roman Cieślak: Actually, you can already take breathing classes as part of yoga and meditation training. But it does seem that over the years we have lost some of what should be our instinctive resting skills and now we need to re-learn them. What’s more, in the light of the modern “activity craze,” resting has become rather unpopular.

While being busy increases your social status and makes you feel needed, important and more attractive, having too much time on your hands makes you appear boring and weak.

It’s also commonly associated with laziness.

It is. That’s why we stubbornly fill our spare time with different sorts of activities -- additional work projects, house chores, classes -- anything rather than being alone with ourselves.

Can being alone with yourself be defined as relaxing?

I would say yes. And people have different methods for spending time with themselves: jogging, cycling, meditation, etc.

From a psychological point of view, effective relaxation has to meet three conditions: 1. It happens in our spare time; 2. We choose the activity; and 3. The chosen activity improves the quality of our life.

Relaxation is necessary, not only to recharge our batteries but also to peacefully contemplate our life and career -- to ask ourselves: “Am I happy? Does my job satisfy me?”

If my job is my passion and ticks off all of the boxes above, would the time spent editing this interview be classified as relaxation?

Possibly. But you happen to be in that privileged group of people who love their job. Your profession gives you satisfaction and a sense of achievement. Put simply -- it makes you happy. Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky and most people hate their job. Some of them spend 12 hours a day in a hostile environment, accomplishing goals completely alien to their nature. It makes them exhausted, frustrated and leads to professional burnout. But our work life didn’t always look so grim.

What do you mean?

A few thousand years ago, people’s work was consistent with their personal interests. They lived a simple life involving gathering food, collecting building materials and establishing their social position. Their private and professional spheres were interwined. But, then, barter was replaced by currency transactions. Eventually, industrial revolutions and the growing pursuit of money built a wall between our work and leisure spheres, dividing them for centuries.

Nevertheless, we have slowly started to realize that such a division is artificial and makes us incredibly unhappy.

The abundance of start-ups proves that people crave professional freedom and a work-life balance.

It’s also the result of a generally unfavourable opinion about corporations. People still see them as inhuman money factories that degrade their employees and discard them when they are no longer useful.

Don’t you think this bad reputation is fairly earned?

It used to be. But today corporations function as thinking organisms, perfectly aware that constant transformation and adjustment are their key to survival. We should remember that corporate culture doesn’t just appear from nowhere. It’s formulated by the workers. Blaming a corporation for being profit-oriented, nasty and full of gossip is a deceptive excuse. It’s not the corporation itself being hostile and avaricious. It’s people who create these negative conditions.

That's true, but apart from lower and mid-level employees, there are still executives who direct the company and shape its philosophy.

You’re right. Corporate culture -- a company’s standards, regulations and goals, is formulated by senior executives, its so called “leaders.” They also decide how to attract potential candidates. What this means is that if they agree on the: “Work with us, we’ll make you rich” approach, the company will attract money-oriented people.

They could also use the “We won’t make you rich, but we will appreciate and respect your values” strategy.

Absolutely, and it’s a great example.

A person not motivated by a higher income is usually driven by an intrinsic motivation, a feeling of inner satisfaction.

Inner satisfaction won’t pay off a mortgage.

No, it won’t, but it will give you peace of mind and faith in your ability to change the world into a better place.

You said that corporations are changing. Could you elaborate?

The number of employee assistance programs is growing rapidly. This means that corporations have discovered an inter-dependency between their employees’ well-being and their work efficiency.

It’s fairly simple: when an employee’s quality of life improves, they perform better at work.

Consequently, if a company is intent on attracting competent workers, it has to provide something more than a decent salary.

Have you ever worked for the company that truly cared about its employees?

Some years ago I conducted a training course at a fairly big corporation. Its Chief Executive always finished work at 5pm and so did all the other staff members. I heard him explain to a new employee: “We work from 8 to 5. Time after 5 belongs to you and your family simply because if you’re not with your family at that time of the day, you also won’t be back at here at 8 am tomorrow. Physically, yes, but mentally you’ll still be at home, spending the first two hours solving your personal problems, instead of focusing on your job.” These precise working hours emphasized the importance of personal time and made the employees feel respected. It also didn’t stop the company from becoming incredibly successful.


Roman Cieślak is a psychologist and professor at the School of Social Psychology, Vice-rector for Science. He deals with planning, implementation and evaluation of psychological interventions, regarding coping with depression, trauma, stress and burnout.

--translated from the Polish by Martyna Kardach

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