Lauren Gordon – Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, Bupa Behavioural Insights Team, reveals how to address common workplace wellbeing challenges, supporting your health and wellbeing at work in the new year.
Now more than ever, we need to support employee health and wellbeing. The pandemic has taken its toll on both mental and physical health leading to workplace wellbeing challenges like burnout and presenteeism, which can impact employee productivity and performance.
Whilst it can be easy to fall into the pattern of working too many hours, skipping your lunch break and slouching at your desk, these can be harmful to your health and wellbeing. So, it’s important to recognise when workplace factors are impacting your wellbeing and take positive actions to combat these challenges.
Analysis of Google search data has revealed that towards the end of 2021, UK employees were turning to Google to seek advice on how to manage the things impacting their wellbeing at work.
- – 53% increase in Google searches for ‘chronic procrastination’
- – 50% increase in Google searches for ‘multitasking’
- – 30% increase in Google searches for ‘workplace stress’
- – 22% increase in Google searches for ‘signs of burnout at work’
- – 14% increase in Google searches for ‘decision fatigue’
(Google search increases are calculated between November 2021 – January 2022)
Here, Lauren Gordon, Lead Behavioural Insights Advisor, reveals five workplace challenges impacting employee wellbeing:
1. Chronic procrastination
Procrastination is the habit of delaying an important task. There are lots of things that can lead to procrastination in the workplace. For example, tackling a task that will require a large amount of time or isn’t challenging enough. As well as mental health issues such as stress and anxiety.
Before the pandemic, the structure of daily schedules helped us to stay on track, stick to a routine and complete everyday tasks. But with so much change to our working lives over the past year, our usual work behaviours have been disrupted. This is causing many employees to feel anxious, stressed and underwhelmed in their working lives – resulting in chronic (long-term) procrastination.
Multitasking divides your attention, making it harder to focus on one task at a time. This can lead to lower levels of efficiency at work and make you more likely to make a mistake.
Over the past year, many employees may have found themselves multitasking more than usual. This is particularly true for working parents who found they had to juggle their home and work life during lockdown. Others may have found their workload increased too, especially if some colleagues were placed on furlough.
3. Workplace stress
Workplace stress can happen when an employee is experiencing high amounts of pressure, which they’re unable to cope with. Too much stress can lead to mental health conditions including anxiety or depression. During the peak of the pandemic, research by Bupa UK revealed that over one in four employees reported their workload had a negative impact on their wellbeing.
Everyone reacts to stress differently. But common signs of work-related stress are;
- Withdrawing from work and colleagues
- Increased absence
- Lower productivity
- Lower motivation levels
High workloads, working longer hours and lack of stability in a job can all lead to workplace stress. With so much change and uncertainty over the past year, it’s no surprise employees are increasingly experiencing work-related stress.
Stress has an impact on our physical health as well as our mental health. If left to build up over time, stress can increase our risk of health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease.
Although the evidence around this topic is not 100% conclusive, research suggests if you have heart disease and are under lots of stress, it can bring on symptoms of angina (chest pain caused by reduced blood flow to the heart). Similarly, when experiencing stress some people may act in a certain way that can increase their risk of heart disease too. For example, smoking, drinking too much alcohol or eating too much.
Stressful situations can temporarily raise your blood pressure. However, regular exercise can help to reduce your stress levels and blood pressure.
4. Burnout at work
Burnout at work is caused by feeling overwhelmed or being under too much pressure at work for a long period of time. For some employees experiencing work burnout, the boundaries between work and home can become blurred. This can make it harder to switch off from work and find a work-life balance.
After a challenging year, it’s no surprise many employees have experienced burnout in their working lives. Multiple lockdowns, remote working and social distancing restrictions have led to many feeling a loss of control – both at home and work.
5. Decision fatigue
Decision making is an intellectual process which can leave you feeling exhausted – especially when it comes to making those bigger business decisions. As a result, employees can experience decision fatigue – where the ability to make high-quality decisions decreases after a series of choices have already been made.
Feeling exhausted, making more mistakes and experiencing brain-fog are all symptoms of decision fatigue and can lead to lower levels of productivity. Due to the pandemic, many employees have had to make more new decisions each day over the past year – increasing the likelihood of experiencing decision fatigue.
As a manager, it’s important to spot any signs your team may be struggling and help them to form positive work habits to support their health and wellbeing in the workplace.
Let’s start the New Year on the right foot. Here, Lauren Gordon shares positive work habits to adopt in 2022 to boost your health at work.
1. Collaborate with colleagues
83% increase in Google searches for ‘effective teamwork’ between November 2021 – January 2022
Working with people from across your business can help to boost innovation, bringing new ideas and ways of thinking to a task.
There are lots of ways you can collaborate with your colleagues;
- Making use of virtual platforms to stay in touch
- Working on shareable documents
- In person catch ups and brainstorming meetings
Whilst collaboration brings lots of benefits, it’s important to schedule collaboration and focus time, as not all projects may require collaboration. Sometimes too much collaboration can increase the risk of ‘zoom fatigue’ – the tiredness, worry or burnout associated with overusing virtual platforms for communication. A balance of both teamwork and working independently can lead to increased productivity.
As a manager, you can set standards of collaborative behaviour and lead by example. Each business and collaboration project are different, so it’s important to find what works best for your business, yourself and your colleagues.
2. Switch off after work
27% increase in Google searches for ‘work balance’ between November 2021 – January 2022
Due to the impact of the pandemic, many of us have spent more time at home than ever before. With our homes becoming multifunctional spaces for work and home, many employees have struggled to switch off after work.
A routine is a great way to signal to your brain that work time is over and home life has begun. If you’ve been struggling to switch off after work, try to create an after-work routine that works for you – something as simple as shutting down your laptop properly every day when you finish work can help.
You could try to get outside and get moving – exercise is a great way to wind down after a busy day at work and has great benefits for your mental health. Exercise doesn’t have to be long or strenuous either, even half an hour a day could help if it gets your heart rate up, like a bike ride or a brisk walk.
If you’re back working in the office, make use of your commute time to switch off from work. Try listening to a podcast or putting your favourite tunes on during your journey home.
As an employer, there are small steps you can take to help your employees strike a work-life balance and be aware that if you send emails out of hours, colleagues may feel obligated to log on and reply. Encourage your employees to spend time doing something they enjoy in the evenings. Similarly, checking in on your team’s workload and helping them to manage any tight deadlines can help to promote a healthy work-life balance.
3. Practise mindfulness
24% increase in Google searches for ‘mindfulness at work’ between November 2021 – January 2022
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing your attention on the present and can be a useful coping technique for stress in the workplace.
It can be easy to feel overwhelmed when you have a high workload or a difficult task to complete. This can lead to stress, lack of focus and more mistakes. Practising mindfulness during your working day can help you to assess your workload, prioritise tasks and reduce any feelings of stress.
Both managers and team members are at risk of experiencing workplace stress. As a manager it is important you take time out of your day to take care of yourself, as well as your team.
You might find it helpful to take deep breaths and try bringing your attention to the present moment. You can also make hobbies you enjoy such as running, gardening and crafts mindful by removing any distractions. This can help you to switch off from work and wind down in the evenings.
4. Try resilience techniques
23% increase in Google searches for ‘resilience in the workplace’ between November 2021 – January 2022
Resilience at work is an employee’s ability to cope with challenges, change and bounce back from adversity. For example, meeting tight deadlines, managing work relationships and organisational restructures all require resilience.
Building resilience can help you deal with workplace stresses and avoid work-related conditions such as burnout. There are simple ways you can boost your resilience to manage any workplace challenges you might face over the next year.
Firstly, know that it’s ok to feel a range of emotions. Instead of pushing your feelings away, accept how you’re feeling and try to find the source of the issue. The last few years have been really challenging for everyone. Don’t forget to remember how you’ve coped and adapted in the past.
If you’re struggling to adapt, reach out to your manager to share your worries, together you can work on a plan to help you to cope with challenges.
Resilience is a key part of employee wellbeing. As a manager, it’s important to understand how to support your team with building their resilience. Being available to talk through any worries and concerns, as well as providing access to support such as Employee Assistance Programmes can help.
5. Check your work set up
23% increase in Google searches for ‘desk set up ideas’ between November 2021 – January 2022
Over the past year, we have had to adapt to new working environments, from working remotely to adjusting to being back in the office.
If you work from a desk, it’s important you have the correct desk setup. The wrong workspace setup can lead to aches and pain. If you’re working from home avoid working from your bed or the sofa, as this can wreak havoc on your posture. Remember to keep your shoulders relaxed, arms at 90 degrees to the table and feet on the floor, this will all help to reduce the risk of pain and aches.
Similarly, a clear desk, free from clutter can help to keep your mind focused – working in a messy workspace can cause distractions and lead to lower productivity levels.
As a manager, check in with your employees. If your team is working from home, ask if extra equipment might be needed such as ergonomic chairs or laptop risers to improve their set up. This will help to prevent any injuries, aches and pains.
Research has revealed one in three of us sit at our desks for too long, and this can cause stiffness and muscle pain. If you’re working in the office, why not suggest a lunchtime walk to encourage your team to stretch their back, legs and rest their eyes – reducing the risk of stiffness and back pain. If you’re experiencing aches and pains whilst working from home, speak to your employer, GP or physiotherapist who will be able to advise.
6. Communicate with your colleagues
22% increase in Google searches for ‘effective communication’ between November 2021 – January 2022
With remote and hybrid working, it can sometimes feel difficult to catch up with colleagues and share updates on any work projects. However, effective communication supports good teamwork, collaboration and productivity in the workplace.
Whether you’re working from the office or remotely, take the time to share any positive news or work achievements with your colleagues. This will keep them in the loop on what you’re working on.
As a manager, you can lead by example and encourage your team to make time to chat during the day to help them to feel connected. For example, take a morning coffee break to catch up when working in the office. Or schedule a regular call when working remotely to help create a daily routine.
Data provided by Google from November 2021-January 2022. Based on an internal analysis of Google search data.