Lessons from Lockdown: What we’ve learnt a year on

25 March 2021

Over the past year, we have all experienced change to our lives, both at work and home. During the pandemic, many of us turned to Google to find advice and support.

Based off what we’ve all been searching for, Bupa’s health and wellbeing experts have revealed the lessons we’ve learned from our experiences of lockdown.

As we approach the milestone of a year of lockdown, it’s more important than ever to look ahead and form positive workplace habits for the future.

Lesson 1: It’s important to take regular breaks

During the last three months of 2020 (October, November and December), UK searches on Google for ‘burnout’ peaked at an average monthly search volume of 12,100.

Burnout is when we experience high levels of stress and pressure in work which we’re not able to manage causing us to feel emotionally exhausted. As a result, we may lose motivation, feel negatively towards our work and experience lower levels of productivity.

Lauren Gordon, Behavioural Insights Adviser at Bupa UK shares her simple ways to reduce the effects of burnout: “Make sure you take regular breaks throughout the working day and spend time away from your workspace. Try not to scroll through social media or the news during your breaks. Instead, you could try 5 minutes of mindfulness, listen to music, or do some simple stretches to move your body. These practices can boost your mood and leave you feeling re-energised, ready to tackle the rest of the day.

Use your evenings and weekends to do something you enjoy, like exercising, getting creative, or spending time with loved ones. You should also aim to spread your annual leave throughout the year to make sure that you get significant chunks of time to switch-off – but don’t be tempted to check your emails. Taking time away from your work has a heap of health and wellness benefits.”

Lesson 2: Not being challenged enough can leave you feeling anxious

Pablo Vandenabeele, Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK Insurance describes boreout as a mental health condition, where you do not feel mentally challenged by your work. For example, you may feel as though your work is repetitive, easy and doesn’t challenge your abilities enough. This can leave you feeling fatigued, anxious, and stressed.

During the peak of lockdown in 2020, searches in the UK on Google for ‘boreout’ increased by 680%. Boreout can be triggered by reduced workhours, workload, and lack of social interaction. With gyms, bars and restaurants also closed for the majority of 2020, many of us may have experienced boreout in our daily life.

A key lesson we have learned from experiencing boreout is the importance of talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. For example, speaking to your manager about any new goals or responsibilities you could take on may help you feel motivated and overcome boreout, along with supporting you with developing your career.

Lesson 3: More flexibility equals a happier workforce

Flexibility in the workplace has been more important than ever, especially with the closure of schools; leaving many parents juggling work priorities and home schooling.

At the beginning of the first lockdown in March 2020, searches for ‘working from home with kids’ peaked at a monthly search volume of 12,100.

Beginning 2021 with further lockdown restrictions in place, many of us have become aware of the importance of striking a greater work-life balance to look after our wellbeing.

Equally, there has been a shift in employers becoming aware of the importance of employee wellbeing, with 67% of the UK workforce agreeing their employers have been supportive.

Lesson 4: Healthy lunches help us tackle the afternoon ahead

During the first national lockdown, there was a significant increase for searches on Google for ‘healthy lunch ideas’ – peaking at 74,000 in May 2020.

Eating a balanced diet is both important for leading a healthy lifestyle and promoting mental wellbeing. With many of us working from home it can be tempting to form unhealthy eating habits, turning to snacking on convenience foods, rather than opting for healthy meals at regular times.

Victoria Evans, Wellbeing Programme Consultant at Bupa UK and Registered Associate Nutritionist says eating a healthy and balanced lunch will boost your energy levels, helping to beat the post lunchtime lull: “Aim to snack on fresh fruit, veg sticks or nuts to avoid the post lunch lull. Swapping out foods such as biscuits, chocolates, fizzy drinks and cake which have “free sugars”, for these more nutritious options will help with maintaining your energy levels throughout the day.”

Opting for lunch time meals that include a mix of the below will keep your energy levels up;

  • Fruit and vegetables
  • Carbohydrates – quinoa, bread, potatoes, rice or pasta
  • Protein- eggs, fish, meat or cheese or dairy alternatives or beans and pulses
  • Some healthy fats including nuts, seeds, olive oil or a small avocado

“Homemade soup, chilli, pasta dishes and quinoa salad are all examples of healthy lunches that beat the lunch time lull. If you’re looking for lunchtime recipe inspiration whilst working from home, try our healthy lunch meal plan”, says Victoria.

Lesson 5: Too many videos calls have left us feeling fatigued

Throughout 2020, Google UK searches for ‘zoom fatigue’ fluctuated. Video call fatigue describes the tiredness, worry or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms for communication.

Behavioural Insights Adviser, Lauren Gordon confirms: “Processing several different faces and voices on a screen requires a lot of cognitive effort. Our sense of self-awareness is also heightened as we’re seeing our own faces on the screen too, so we might be concerned about whether we are coming across as we mean to. For some, there will be other worries such as being interrupted by family members or distracting noises. What’s more, if you have lots of back to back meetings there is less of an opportunity to rest your eyes and get away from the screen to stretch your legs. All these factors can lead to video call fatigue”.

She suggests limiting the number of video calls each day and asking yourself whether the meeting really needs to take place. If it does, see if you could talk over the phone and go for a walk at the same time, or try turning off your camera when others are presenting. Avoid trying to multi-task during meetings such as by checking emails. This will help to reduce the additional cognitive load and means that we are better able to concentrate on the task at hand.

Lesson 6: Your body will thank you for the right WFH set up

Last year we had to quickly adjust to working from home and many of us many of us didn’t have the appropriate set up, with only one in three of us having a dedicated workspace.

The wrong workspace setup can wreak havoc on your posture, and this can lead to injuries. Since the switch to working from home last year, research by Bupa has revealed 63% of Brits have injured their back, neck, hips, knees and wrist.

If you’re still working from home, work from a desk or kitchen table if you have no dedicated workspace available. Even though it can be tempting to work from the sofa or even the comfort of your bed, it can lead to strains and pains.

Keeping your shoulders relaxed, arms at 90 degrees to the table and feet on the floor will all help to reduce the risk of pain and aches.

One in three of us sit at our desks for too long, and this can cause stiffness and muscle pain. Try taking a break from your desk every hour for 5-10 minutes to stretch your back, legs and rest your eyes. There are also simple stretches you can do from your desk to avoid stiffness and back pain.

If you are experiencing aches and pains whilst working from home speak to your employer, GP or physiotherapist, they will be able to help.

Lesson 7: Get creative with your WFH events

Making time for your team to socialise has benefits for both employee wellbeing and your business, such as promoting company culture.

Google UK searches for ‘virtual team building activities’ peaked at 4,400 in November 2020, ahead of the festive season.

Post-work drinks or social events are a great way to connect with your team whilst also letting your hair down. With social distancing and restrictions in place, virtual events are a great way to stay connected with your team and socialise.

Working from home events can be as small or creative as you like. For example, this could be a weekly coffee and catch up call, post work drinks, a quiz or even a workshop.

When planning virtual events, it’s important to first consider all personalities of the members of your team. This will help your virtual event get off to a great start and put any anxieties that come with virtual communication such as, technical glitches or being on camera at ease.

Lesson 8: Career development is important whilst working remotely

Supporting employees with developing their skills not only helps to boost their confidence and motivation, but also helps to form a resilient and engaged workforce.

Last year Google UK searches for ‘online learning’ increased by 400%, peaking during the first lockdown.

Taking the time to learn a new skill is a great way to maintain good mental health and wellbeing. Whilst learning something new can be challenging the achievements are also very rewarding. With lots of change and uncertainty over the past year, learning a new skill has given many something positive to focus on.

Clinical Director for Mental Health at Bupa UK Insurance, Pablo Vandenabeele says, “learning a new skill doesn’t always need to be focused on career development. This could be learning a new language or craft; there’s lots of ways you can develop your skillset”.

“As a manager, you can encourage your team to get involved with learning by leading by example and sharing any opportunities you think your team may enjoy or benefit from. However, it is important to remember further learning should be an option rather than compulsory. Some employees may find their time is stretched more than ever at the moment, especially for those balancing home schooling and work commitments”.

Lesson 9: A morning routine sets the day up for a great start

Creating a morning routine that works for you is a great way to boost motivation and productivity for the day ahead. As well as taking care of your mental wellbeing.

In 2020, we saw consistently high search volumes on Google for ‘morning routine ideas’ – with search volumes peaking in May 2020 at 8,100.

Behavioural Insight Adviser Lauren Gordon says, “you can take small but achievable steps to set your day up for success. You could create a routine around behaviours you normally do like taking a shower, making your bed and having a healthy breakfast. Or it could be something more like replacing your commute time with a new habit such as a morning workout or walk. To get your day off to the best start it’s important to find what works best for you.”

“Routines are a way of creating structure in your daily life – which has been more important than ever over the past year of uncertainty. A daily routine can also be helpful in reducing stress, improving your sleep and time management”.

Sources

  • CIPD. Impact of COVID-19 on Working Lives. www.cipd.co.uk, published September 2020
  • Bupa UK. Hurting from Home: 11 million home workers in pain, published May 2020

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