Whether we like it or not – and regardless of whether we want it to be – work is a significant part of our lives. We spend almost a third of our lives on the job and on average will work as many as 90,000 hours in our lifetime. Like so many other aspects of daily living, how and where we work has changed significantly over the years. In the 1980s, the majority of workplaces allowed smoking, computers had only just begun to appear in office cubicles and the world wide web was still the stuff of science fiction novels. An official HR department or corporate responsibility policy was at best Friday night drinks run by a social club, that would most likely create significant work for the HR office (if it even cared about that type of thing).
Today, many employers have recognised the modern-day pressures being put on their most valuable asset, their employees, and there has been significant emphasis on making the 21st-century work environment healthier by placing greater investment into workplace well-being and mental health. Legislation is one aspect of this with bullying, discrimination and sexual harassment no longer tolerated by employers or employees. Workplaces now realise they play an active role in their employees’ health and wellbeing with agile working, mental health days and upskilling becoming the norm, rather than the exception.
There is a significant amount of workplace research that suggests prioritising your people and their mental health will not just help with staff retention, but it will also significantly improve their productivity. According to the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand, in 2014, it was estimated that low levels of mental wellbeing at work leading to absenteeism, reduced performance, higher accident and injury rates and increased turnover resulting in over 6 million days lost to absence at a cost of over one billion dollars to the economy. This evidence just goes to show that caring for employees isn’t just the right thing to do -it’s good business as well.
At Reward Gateway, Head of Wellbeing Lucy Tallick says, “Corporate wellness has developed hugely over the past decade. Really beginning with sick pay and private medical insurance, it was all extremely reactive, only kicking in when an employee was at crisis point and in need of intervention. Over the last three to four years, we have seen a huge shift into the world of wellbeing at work meaning a preventative programme supporting people to be more resilient, with the goal of stopping employees reaching a crisis point in the first place.”
While there’s certainly been a rise in corporate social responsibility, the nature of today’s workplace means employees are connected to the stresses of work more than ever. Indeed, while it might say 40 hours on our contracts, the reality is checking our emails as soon as we wake, making the first calls of the morning in the car during the work commute or reading over your presentation notes on the train ride home has become the norm and not the exception. Rita Dugan of Bournemouth University says, “Stress levels were not as great in the ‘80s, as technology did not allow instant responses to enquiries. People tended to talk to you rather than converse electronically. This meant that issues rarely became crises, because talking tended to solve the problem.”
While the work that large organisations and professional workplaces have done in the last decade is having a huge impact on our mental well-being in the office, we need to ensure that the prioritisation of people is not left to be the sole responsibility of an HR policy or a digital tool. We can’t take the human element out of life and we of course have a responsibility to look after ourselves – and should extend that to our colleagues as well. The workplace mental health conversation can seem difficult at first and talking about how you’re feeling is often seen as hard to do, we need to remind ourselves and those around us that silence isn’t the answer. If we know our colleagues, which are so often our friends, then we know what makes them tick and what their triggers are, we know what to look out for, when to push and when to pull back. By paying greater attention to ourselves and those around us at work, we can help to ensure that problems don’t become insurmountable and change the definition of being connected at work from being online and available 24/7 to being available for a chat whenever it may be needed.
Tips for men to unplug from the workplace
Leave the office on time – While working longer hours occasionally is inevitable for many of us, it is still okay to decide it’s time to go home – that task will wait for tomorrow
Take a lunch break – You’ll be amazed at what a little Vitamin D and fresh air can do for your headspace
Don’t respond to non-critical emails after hours – By reacting to everything as it comes, you train yourself to be on call and always available. Work-life balance begins by identifying what’s urgent and what can wait until after you’ve slept on it
Utilise technology to create boundaries – Schedule your work and personal time, and if it isn’t on the schedule, don’t do it. Preparing yourself for family time is just as important as a client meeting and time-blocking actually increases productivity
Perfect that OOO – Short and sweet is the name of the game, specify dates and emphasise not to expect a rapid response (if at all)
Do something that forces you to unplug completely – It could be yoga, tramping or social sport, I prefer a bit of rugby with my boys. Having other interests can help you bond with people face-to-face, reduce stress and anxiety and stimulate your creative side which may be underutilised at work