Switching off after work

04 January 2021

Due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, now more than ever, many of us are spending more time at home. With our homes becoming multi-functional spaces from offices to classrooms, gyms and entertainment areas it can be hard to switch off after work, particularly when a change of scenery can be hard to find.

For many of us, working from an office provides the stability of routine with clear working hours. During the peak of the pandemic most offices were closed, with 46% of employees in the UK working from home. Remote working means employees are contactable regardless of where they’re based, but does this mean logging off is really the same as clocking out?

In April 2020, it was reported 30% of the UK workforce were working more hours than before due to the pandemic, with many remote working employees finding it hard to strike a work-life balance and switch off at the end of the day.

An increase in work hours may be due to the need for some employees to adjust to a new way of working, whilst others may feel pressured to be online and available throughout the day whilst working from home. In fact, it has been reported many employees take shorter and less frequent breaks when working remotely.

Making time for breaks during your workday is important for reducing work related mental health concerns such as stress, fatigue and burnout. Increased exposure to long working days can lead to fatigue. Fatigue is an overwhelming tiredness which reduces your motivation and energy levels, having a negative impact on your mental and physical health. Since the start of the pandemic it has been reported over half of remote workers have suffered from fatigue.

A 2020 HSE study has also found that over seventeen million of the UK’s working days were lost because of workplace stress, which is sometimes referred to as ‘burnout’. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the declining mental health of adults in the UK has been linked to loneliness, boredom and the worry of job loss. Because of this, the number of employees suffering from burnout is also expected to increase.

Whilst some forms of burnout can motivate good performance under pressure, repeated exposure to stressful triggers, without the ability to recover from them can cause long-term detrimental effects to our wellbeing and health.

Presenteeism is a term given to people who attend work whilst suffering poor physical and mental health conditions, which can lead to a reduced level of productivity. Key contributors to presenteeism are stress, burnout, lack of sleep and poor financial wellbeing. Research has found that since the beginning of UK national lockdown in March 2020, employees have felt their wellbeing has suffered, they’re finding it more difficult to fall asleep and financial wellbeing has suffered. With the underlying factors of presenteeism increasing, combined with other workplace stressors, the number of employees turning up for work when ill is set to increase.

Prolonged workplace stressors can become particularly expensive for smaller businesses. Taking an active interest in employee wellbeing can help to avoid costs associated with absences, including reputation damage, productivity levels and extra spending on sickness pay, temporary staff

Stress’s effect on your mind, body and business

Since the start of the pandemic, many employees may have felt more stressed or worried, especially after a tough day at work. Stress can lead to changes in your behaviour or temperament; have you ever had a tough day at work and then found yourself snapping at a loved one (who didn’t really deserve it)? Or have you been faced with a tirade of deadlines, but couldn’t find the motivation to tackle a single task? It may be your sleep that has been affected: has your racing mind resulted in a lack of slumber?

Stress can affect our moods and behaviours, as well as our physiological responses. Being aware of stressors, identifying their sources, and spotting how they influence productivity can help to manage their effects in the workplace. Research by OnePoll found that 85% of UK staff believe that their employer has an obligation to look after their health. Additionally, employees who are engaged in their own health and wellbeing often perform better at work. Whilst working remotely it is important mental and physical support services are made accessible to employees.

It’s a challenging time for us all right now, so it’s important to make your wellbeing a priority and strike a good work-life balance. Finding your post-work Zen begins before you’ve even turned off your laptop for the day. Creating a boundary between workspace and personal space can help to mark when you are at work and when it’s time to wind-down – this can be achieved by moving into a different space once you’ve finished work.

Research shows that it’s really important to try and detach yourself from work outside of working hours, in order to recharge your batteries and perform to your full potential. Be realistic and logical about any short notice work requests you receive and any that you delegate: is the deadline genuinely achievable within the set timeframe, and would you be happy with the work’s standard, if it were to be completed within that time? If the answer isn’t ‘yes’ to both of these questions, don’t be afraid to postpone the task until a later time. 2020 is the year that has brought many new stressors and lots of change we have had to quickly adapt to promoting a culture that recognises and encourages employees to spend time on themselves and with their families can help reduce work-based stresses eating into home life.

There are lots of small but achievable steps that can be taken to help you switch off from work;

Plan your post-work schedule

You might think you’ve successfully left work worries at your front door, but if you’re suffering from sleepless nights from worrying, try taking some practical steps to shut down your mind and shake up your schedule. A routine is a great way to signal to your brain that work time is over and home life has begun.

Get moving!

Exercise is beneficial for both your physical and mental health and can improve your sleep quality. Whilst working remotely you could use the time for what would have been your daily commute to get active. It’s important you find something you enjoy: this could be walking, running cycling or yoga. There’s lots of different forms of exercise you could try – why not try an online class?

Cut back on stimulants

Even if you’ve had an especially tiring or stressful day, don’t be tempted to self-medicate with stimulants like caffeine, sugar, nicotine or alcohol. Whilst you may feel a short-term pick-me-up, you might find yourself more stressed in the long run and struggling to nod off.

Screening your screen use

If your workdays involve prolonged screen use, taking some time away from your phone, tablet, laptop and TV in the evening naturally helps to create a divide these two aspects of your life. If possible, prohibit any work-related notifications until your next workday, so you’re not tempted to read them as soon as they hit your phone.

Create your own little sanctuary

Find somewhere just for you, whether that’s a comfortable chair, or out in the garden or park; somewhere that you can take at least twenty minutes to unwind and take some time for yourself. Why not take this time to listen to a mindfulness podcast, or get stuck into a book?

Work demons still niggling?

We spend a lot of our lives at work, so naturally a lot of our worries may stem from here. These worries could be in relation to your workload, or could be to do with team tensions. It’s not always easy to shut off these thoughts completely, especially if they’re ongoing or unresolved. Writing down your worries, or using our interactive worry tree can help distinguish the source of your thoughts and help establish healthy steps to resolve, or come to terms with them.

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