Christian Minimalism

Productivity, Rest, and the Solar Eclipse

For those of us who live in North America, a big event last month was the total solar eclipse on April 8th. Folks who lived in areas in which the partial eclipse (or the full eclipse, called the path of totality) could be viewed– or could travel to an area in which the eclipse could be viewed– were excited, because it was a big deal. The next time a total solar eclipse will be able to be seen from the lower 48 United States is not until 2044 (and the next time it will be seen over a wide swath of the U.S. won’t be until 2045).

Schools let out early for the eclipse; my son’s daycare had a 12:30pm dismissal. Some people took a half-day off from work to watch the eclipse, and some who were able took the whole day off from work and traveled to a location in the path of totality.

For those who did not have an early dismissal or could take time off, the eclipse became an issue for employers in the United States. What would happen if work came to a grinding halt and employees were allowed to take a few minutes to watch this natural phenomena with eclipse glasses?

“Productivity Loss” During the Eclipse

When a total solar eclipse occurred in parts of the U.S. in 2017, the Challenger, Gray, and Christmas firm estimated that around $700 million dollars would be lost because of lack of productivity during the eclipse. This estimated amount resurfaced during the eclipse last month, as employers began to worry about the ramifications of workers leaving for just 20 minutes to observe the eclipse.

Articles proliferated about how allowing employees to view the eclipse during company time was actually preferable, citing uplifted company morale. One article from the Dallas-Fort Worth area stated that observing the eclipse while at work helps in “minimizing productivity loss” and is a more “efficient use of time.” Here are some excerpts from that article, with the original section headings:

Minimizing Productivity Loss

The Total Eclipse, particularly its Totality phase, is a brief event, lasting a little more than an hour. By allowing employees to view Eclipse at work, employers can significantly reduce the loss in productivity compared to if employees had taken the entire day off. This strategy ensures that the peak moments of interest, concentrated around the Totality phase, are enjoyed without significantly impacting work obligations.

Efficient Use of Time

Given that interest in the Eclipse typically declines after the Totality phase, employees will likely be ready to resume their regular duties soon after. This efficient use of time is beneficial for maintaining workflow and productivity levels.

“Solar Eclipse Absenteeism: A $700 Million Blow to US Employers” by Total Eclipse DFW

With consumer culture’s emphasis on constant productivity, articles like the one quoted above were seen as justification for why employees should be allowed to spend even just a few minutes of break time to watch the total solar eclipse. Which begs the question: shouldn’t employees be allowed periodic breaks in their workday anyway?

As seen from the article excerpts above, many of the reasons stated for the break were to deter employees from taking the whole day off, and to “maintain workflow and productivity levels.” So even though the articles at first seem to be a positive way to encourage employers to offer break time to watch the eclipse, the articles are actually strengthening consumer culture’s constant emphasis on productivity and money-making by making a rest break in the workday something special rather than something that should be occurring on a regular basis anyway.

Rest in the Workplace

When I was doing research on rest/break times in the workplaces in the United States for this blog post, I was shocked to find out that break times in the workday– including meal times– are not required by federal law.

With that said, individual states have laws around meals and break times. In New York State where I live, for example, the law requires an unpaid meal break between 20 and 45 minutes long, but does not require by law any rest breaks (but if an employer decides to offer a rest break, the break of up to 20 minutes is required to be paid and considered overtime pay by federal law). New York State also requires one 24-hour day of rest per week of labor.

I couldn’t believe that the law in my state, while requiring an (unpaid) meal break and day of rest, still didn’t require regular rest breaks in the workplace. But other states’ laws don’t even require that much. For example, in Pennsylvania, where I’ve lived and worked before, no meal or rest breaks are required at all, unless you’re a seasonal farmworker or a minor between the ages of 14 and 17.

In short, the laws in the U.S. are extremely affected by consumer culture and its emphasis on productivity and profits at the cost of employees’ health. We all know that productivity is almost always better when we work fewer hours and take breaks, yet according to the law, employers can work us into the ground– literally, since working longer hours equates to health issues and early death.

Is it any surprise that the news media felt like it had to justify why employers should be able to let employees take a break to view the total solar eclipse? Consumer culture, and U.S. laws, have taught us that we must constantly produce, and rest is not to be prioritized.

God and Rest

Unlike consumer culture, God prioritizes rest for us. We were not created by God to work constantly– God instituted Sabbath rest in the 10 Commandments so that we would have time with God and the rest we needed for our well-being:

Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

Exodus 20:8-11

Sabbath rest isn’t just for that one day of rest a week, though. A good example of this is Jesus himself, who regularly took time out of his ministry to pray and rest: “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” (Luke 5:16)

If Jesus, God in human form, regularly needed time for rest and prayer, than we too also need rest breaks and Sabbath rest days.

We can find ways to rest, even when our workplaces don’t offer time or space to do so. Just taking a few deep breaths and reminding ourselves of God’s presence every few hours can offer a brief Sabbath in our workday.

Consumer culture often tells us that resting is selfish (unless we buy and consume “treat yo’ self” goodies and services). But God calls us to rest on a regular basis, for our physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being– rest is a sacred gift from God.

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest…

Hebrews 4:9-11a

How is God calling YOU to focus less on productivity, and more on holy rest?

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Becca Ehrlich, AKA The Christian Minimalist, is striving to be a Christian minimalist in a consumer society. She currently lives in Upstate New York with her husband Will and their son Theo. You can read more about her story and how her blog came to exist by clicking the website link above.


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