Adult Recess

The case for why grown-ups should be allowed on the swings, too.

Adult Recess

The case for why grown-ups should be allowed on the swings, too.

You chase a skittering ball of light across the tile floor, coming to a stop in front of the human. It has its shoes on, so it’ll probably be going out today, leaving the house to you. It always closes the door when it goes out, which is annoying because it means you have to use the windows to hunt. On the other hand, the human also leaves you  a saucer of milk, which is always nice.

The human will be tired when it comes home, which means you’ll be allowed to curl up with it on the couch, and there’ll be be plenty of cuddles and petting. But until then, the house is empty, which means you can try climbing the bedroom curtain again to see if you can get onto the mantelpiece. The new china figures that the human always insists on putting out of reach demand to be investigated. Then you might run around outside, chasing birds for a bit, which leaves plenty of time for your afternoon nap.

You wonder what exciting things the human must be up to, to be so tired upon reaching home. What kind of wild exciting games and hunts must be going on! You are never allowed to witness them, though, so you manage with your own little hunts at home.

Little do you know that your poor human is probably working at some boring desk job, and the only thing it  hunts for is likely among files and spreadsheets.

If you have the means and the time to sit down and read this article, chances are you’re decently well off — at least compared to the majority of the population of the world. But what if we told you that there have been people throughout history that were even better off?

What if we told you that they were the hunter-gatherers?

Anthropologists today believe that hunter-gatherers were the “original affluent society”, meaning that they really only worked for about two and half days per week to survive — or about half of most people now. Although some say that figure may be an exaggeration, there’s no denying that gathering and foraging would logically take less time than agriculture, which involves actually guiding the process of growth before going into harvest.

There are, of course, some criticisms of this theory, including the fact that seasons often factor in quite strongly into the availability of work and food, or that hunting and gathering has effectively been replaced in almost all parts of the world. So something must make other forms of subsistence more effective, right?

But the biggest criticism of them all is the most fundamental — how does one define work?

The word “work” is defined as doing something that involves physical or mental effort. For many of us today, work involves sitting at a desk for about eight hours a day, give or take a few hours. And when we’re done with that, we often take any opportunity we can to go out into nature for leisure activities, like hiking, hunting, or fishing.

We think of those things as fun, but for hunters and gatherers, it’s likely those same tasks would be considered ‘work’. Those skills were a necessity in order to survive.

The concept of work itself has gone through many changes over the centuries; from hunting and gathering to agriculture to the rise of factory jobs after the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Since the recent technology boom, with the creation of desktop computers, the Internet, and portable electronics, more and more labour is being transferred over to robots and computer programs.

We’ll come back to the implications of this later, but the point here is that manual labour is slowly disappearing from our working lives, leading to lifestyles that are more sedentary than ever before.

In most nations, a full-time job is considered working a minimum of 40 hours per week. This number was negotiated by trade unions, but it’s still a lot of hours. It doesn’t leave much time for leisure, spending with family, or adding movement in some form to the day.

Recently, there have been some challenges to this notion, such as Sweden introducing the 30-hour work-week or smaller corporations giving employees a 3-day weekend. But these instances are few and far between, and available only to in the most developed parts of the world.

For most others, a few hours of overtime each week is in fact considered the norm. For some, hours don’t even factor in — as long as the deliverables are delivered on time.

The business world today is all about efficiency and productivity. “How can we get more work done?” is the driving force behind every decision. And that creeps over into the people who work as well.

If we spend three days sitting around, then we feel guilty about it — unless we’ve “earned” it in some way, such as working overtime the previous weekend. We think about all the things we could have done, instead of just sitting around and “wasting time”. (Incidentally, when “modern” civilisation goes to meet a more primitive tribal society, their reaction is either that “they’re such lazy people” or “poor things, they work so hard”).

Discipline is, of course, a big part of working efficiently. Even on a personal level, you’ll see professional bullet journalists talking about task lists, time trackers, and other systems to make sure you don’t slack off.

And discipline does work for some people, yes — but is it for everybody?

When the world started to shut down due to the global pandemic, people were forced to adapt to working remotely. Employees in some fields have even realized that working at a cubicle isn’t really necessary —  making the prospect of returning to an office an unhappy one. Sometimes, they were even more productive and happy working remotely, on a more flexible schedule that gave them time to pick up or revisit a hobby.

But even before a global pandemic put things on pause, there was a growing trend in some nations towards having fun, activities for working adults. This included things like recreational sports teams and leagues, short summer camps, scavenger hunts, escape rooms, and more. Social media gave people an opportunity to find out what was available in their city and connect with others with similar interests.

All of these newer concepts that go hand in hand with office work have been proposed as a way to make people more productive and happier with their jobs. And while all of these ideas have been shown to  improve quality of life and lower stress levels, there’s one more suggestion that could be explored on a more mainstream level: recess.

Recess, and the concept of play, is usually only associated with children of primary school age or younger. It’s the time when they can go to the playground and let out their energy before returning to the classroom to sit at a desk and remain attentive. Educators often talk about how recess and play sessions are both extremely underrated concepts that can contribute to a student’s level of focus in the classroom. When observing wild animals, researchers have found that young animals use play as a way to fine-tune how they respond to stress, which can be very useful later in their lives when they become adults.

But what if we applied the same idea to adults in the workforce?

Some may think that an adult who is just as playful as a child that is lacking maturity. For others, it’s something they simply cannot fathom. This could explain the public reaction whenever one sees a viral video of an older person being playful — it doesn’t fit into people’s idea of what life should look like as they age.

It’s no secret that a good exercise routine and casual friendships are two things that can help maintain one’s health. For children, it is known that scheduled playtime and recess at school gives children the opportunity to tap into their creative skills, get a proper break from classwork, and gain new knowledge of soft skills. So it makes sense that mimicking this model in the workforce can help employees better attack their workload and manage the stresses of their job.

Not every adult would be required to play, of course — some may simply not enjoy it. Rather, it should be seen in the same way it is for children, as a time to let out steam and exercise distractions in order to make focusing easier.

This could be going to the gym to get a good pump, playing an organized physical game, taking a walk, doing some stretches to combat all of the hours spent in a chair. If it’s not a physical activity, it could also be simply grabbing a friend and playing cards or board games, which is the equivalent of children playing with toys together.

This model isn’t perfect, and honestly, it doesn’t apply to everyone. No two jobs are the same. While more physical activity may be more ideal for an able-bodied office worker, recess would look different for someone in the field of physical labour, like a firefighter. Since their job itself is physically taxing, non-active leisure activity or doing physio exercises to alleviate the aches and pains from overused muscles are both ideal. Some may even simply need a nap.

Then we have to consider those that do shift work or work odd hours or own their own businesses. The solution is obviously far from one-size-fits-all.

But as an idea, it’s certainly worth exploring.

Time and resources are no longer working against us as a species. We’ve created enough advanced technology to sustain ourselves by doing less. So why not take advantage of what we’ve managed and use that time for ourselves instead?

A fun workplace: Did you know that Snipette is hiring? We’re not yet at the stage we can afford to pay employees — but we need people like you to help us get there! If you enjoyed this article and would like to be part of a fun, crazy, but productive team, hop on here to check our open positions!