One of the frustrating things about moving to Italy is finding everything closed between 1 and 4 pm, the Italian version of the siesta. But this midday Mediterranean break just might hold the secret to a happier, more productive workforce.
According to author Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, four hours' focus is the maximum most humans can manage. Indeed, in his book, Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less, he suggests the average office worker can achieve as much work in four focused hours a day as in eight.
After four or five hours of concentrated effort, the mind clouds and the body becomes sluggish – and the siesta period is an effective way to tackle that.
Pausa pranzo – the Italian lunch break – brings a wave-like pattern to the workday, giving employees an opportunity to recover from the morning’s toil and recharge both physically and mentally before getting stuck into the afternoon's work.
So, why don't other parts of the world embrace the midday break?
Simple, we've bought into the 'busyness culture', obsessed with overworking ourselves to gain social esteem, and wearing stress and busyness like badges of honour.
According to a report published in Harvard Business Review, a busy person in America is perceived to have higher status than someone with free time.
In America, the situation has become so bad that when greeted with 'How are you?' the response is no longer 'I’m well, thank you.' Instead, the appropriate reply is 'Busy!'
During the same study on Italian participants, researchers discovered the opposite: Italians regarded the person with a life of balance and leisure as having a higher status.
So, in Italy, when greeted with 'Come va?' (how's it going?) the appropriate response is something along the lines of, 'va bene!’ (good!) and the conversation drifts toward food and vacation.
The proliferation of mobile devices has only fuelled the busyness culture, keeping employees permanently tethered to the 24/7 enterprise; allowing them to physically leave the office, but never actually leave their work.
A recent report from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) found that the majority of UK managers spend 29 extra days a year working on handheld devices outside of office hours, effectively cancelling out their 25-days of annual leave.
So Italy’s dubious distinction of having the slowest broadband in Europe may actually be a blessing in disguise.
In contrast to the culture of overworking in the UK and USA, Italian business owners like fashion tycoon Brunello Cucinelli are going in the other direction, banning staff from working after 5:30 pm and checking emails outside office hours.
Cucinelli's ban reinforces the wave-like pattern of the day. Forcing employees to leave their work at the office, and focus on more important business: the afternoon aperitivo, or quality time with family.
So next time you find yourself wandering through deserted Italian streets unable to complete your lunchtime errands, don't be too quick to curse the pausa pranzo.
It just might be the cure to the culture of busyness that's gripping the rest of the world.
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