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Dial down, pull back and just switch off Filed on September 16, 2020


So many of us are realising that 'leaning in' is not everything. We're grasping that burning the candle on both ends also means minutes and hours of our lives we're never getting back.

Earlier this month, a piece of music made headlines. The world's slowest musical composition had just undergone its first chord change in seven years. The score, written by avant-garde composer John Cage, is titled 

As Slow As Possible and is due to be played out on a custom-built organ over 639 years at the St Burchardi church in Halberstadt in Germany. Since it started in 2001, there has been a pause that lasted 18 months, followed by a note that lasted two years.

I have to say the news article was such a shot in the arm when I first read it. The idea that, somewhere in this dog-eat-dog world, everyone was waiting with bated breath for a single chord to change after roughly 2,500 days was both hilarious and. wholesome. Let me tell you why.

There used to be a time when constantly telling people how you "just don't have the time" - for that social engagement, for that new bestseller, for that skill you've always wanted to learn - was a mark of validation. The unspoken thrust was that you were too busy - but that was because you were so needed. As a culture, we all want to believe that the world will come apart at its seams if we ever stopped hustling.

Fast forward five years, and so many of us are realising that 'leaning in' is not everything. Instead, we're talking far more about mental health and burnout and sabbaticals. We're grasping that burning the candle on both ends also means minutes and hours of our lives we're never getting back. As one of my favourite books says: "We always think there's time to do things with other people. Time to say things to them. And then something happens and we stand there holding on to words like 'if'." We're having these epiphanies because we're discovering that giving 110 per cent all the time, to quote a recent LinkedIn post, is a losing counter-productive strategy. 

Which is why we need to celebrate the outliers in the corporate arena, like Google, who are putting their money where their mouth is. The tech giant recently gave its employees an extra day off in light of the ongoing pandemic. "This extra holiday is specific to 2020 to support Googlers' well-being in light of Covid-19," the company said. "Please take the time to do whatever you need for yourselves." Managers were further advised to actively support their team to reprioritise work commitments so they could take advantage of the day off.

Cisco did something similar earlier this year, asking employees to take a mental health day off to rest in light of Covid-19. Recognising that "our weeks and weekends are blurring together", Chief People Officer Fran Katsoudas sent an email to all employees reminding them that while it might feel like there are many reasons not to avail the rest day, "there is one reason to unplug: ourselves." 

Other companies, meanwhile, are offering its employees confidential counselling on stress and anxiety.  

There is an urgent need for individuals to dial down, pull back, and switch off - but an even more critical need for organisations to be quicker on the uptake and overhaul its HR practices in order to let them do this. The next chord change in the As Slow As Possible composition is due in February 2022. One can only hope we'll have learnt to listen to reason by then. 



Karen Ann Monsy

A ‘Dubai child’, Karen has been writing for magazines for close to a decade. She covers trends, community, social issues and human interest features. Whether it’s overcoming disability, breaking stereotypes or simply relating the triumphs of everyday lives, she seeks out those stories that can uplift, encourage and inspire. You can find her favourite work at

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