Recognising and managing burnout inducing stress

The discourse around workplace burnout has been increased in recent years as awareness of the damaging mental health effects of long-term, chronic, inefficiently managed stress at work has increased. Especially throughout the pandemic, when people have been working longer hours and dealing with the pressures of remote working and lockdown, incidences of people completely burning out and needing to take time off work have been prevalent. This has especially problematic among healthcare workers, with mental health related absences reported to have cost the NHS £805 million from January 2020 to June 2021.

Burnout can be avoided, but only when people are given the tools to recognise and manage the signs of stress that can amount to burnout when left alone for too long. As with other forms of stress outside of work, human psychology reacts to workplace stress in three key evolutionary displays: fight, freeze and flight.

Recognising signs of stress

Those who have a fight response to stress may experience increased irritability and anger. This can be accompanied by urges to lash out or smash something, a frequently raised voice and a tendency to be accusatory towards others. This response can also manifest physically as a tight jaw or shoulders, neck pain, high blood pressure, clenched fists and a red face.

The freeze response is expressed as an inability to concentrate, brain fog, the mind freezing or locking up and becoming very forgetful. Those experiencing a freeze response may find themselves avoiding certain situations, distancing or isolating themselves from others and becoming demotivated both at work and in life.

The flight response can cause people experiencing stress to become restless, fidgety and unable to sleep. They may also feel trapped and excessively or constantly worried. The physical manifestation of the flight response is anxiety-like symptoms, such as a tight chest, affected breathing, stomach pains and excess sweating.

Managing stress

If you notice signs of stress that are detrimental to work or your daily life, it is crucial to manage them as quickly as possible. Allowing stresses to persist on a long-term basis will lead to burnout when the brain cannot function properly anymore.

Slow the body down

Stress makes your brain and body operate at high speed and one of the first steps that need to be taken is using tools to slow it down. Guided meditation and focused breathing are effective ways to achieve this through stimulation of the diaphragm and vagus nerve.

The vagus nerve runs through the diaphragm muscle and as the muscle moves around the nerve in deep breathing exercises, a parasympathetic response, the nervous system’s relaxed state, is triggered. In addition, the heartbeat naturally slows during deep breathing as the body works to ensure that lungs are properly filled with oxygen and that excessive pressure in the arteries is avoided.

Slowing the body down will limit the physical responses to stress triggered by the evolutionary fight or flight mechanisms. Wrkit’s breathe and listen sections on the POWR platform are excellent places to start in slowing the body down and manage stress. Guided meditation sessions are also available to help refocus both body and mind.

Sleep hygiene

Focusing on your sleep hygiene plan to ensure you are sleeping well for enough time will help to regulate stress hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, in the body.

Establish a consistent bedtime routine so your body and brain know to start winding down for the night, try and go to bed and wake up at the same time each day, avoid exercising, caffeine, nicotine and alcohol in the evenings and limit blue light exposure, such as from phones, for an hour before going to sleep.

Good sleep hygiene helps to keep cortisol and adrenaline fluctuations in a normal rhythm, improving mood, lowering stress and generally supporting mental wellbeing.

Exercise and movement

Exercising boosts the production of the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters – endorphins. Any aerobic exercise will pump endorphins through the body, reducing stress. In addition, activity leads to positive physical effects, such as improving cardiovascular, digestive and immune health and can protect the body from the negative physical fight or flight responses.

In addition to exercise, daily pick me ups such as spending 10 minutes in a park or the garden can be beneficial in minimising stress. Fresh air and greenery are instant mood boosters that do not require putting time aside for a long, strenuous workout.

Personal reflections

Journalling and reflecting are effective ways to manage stress as they encourage people to scrutinise the causes and meaning of stress. It is a good technique to come to terms with and gain a deeper understanding of stress by putting it into writing and then working to improve the root causes of negative feelings.

Reflecting can give people the tools to mindfully treat triggers of stress, rather than simply managing the symptoms of the stress. This will reduce overall stress as problems are solved and removed.

To find out more about how businesses can help employees avoid burnout by effectively identifying and managing stress, request a POWR demo at https://wrkit.com/contact/request-a-demo.

The right to disconnect in a remote working world

New research from Autonomy thinktank has highlighted an ‘epidemic of hidden overtime’ as a result of employees working increasing hours at home. With the recent influx of companies moving to permanent remote working or hybrid working approaches, there is an evident need for the boundaries between work and home life to be more clearly defined to protect employees’ wellbeing.

The pandemic has started to instil a working environment with an increasing and unhealthy expectation for people to always be available and never wholly disconnected from work. However, this assumption can have damaging impacts on mental health, as employees are more likely to feel overwhelmed with stress if they think that they can’t take a break. As a result, there are calls for ‘right to disconnect’ laws in the UK to prevent overworking and unpaid labour.

What is the right to disconnect?

Generally, the right to disconnect means that employees do not have to engage with or reply to work-related communications, such as emails and calls, and can turn off work devices outside of working hours.

 In some countries, this is a legal right and in others, it is advisory. As ‘normal’ working hours differ across varying industries it may be beneficial for some workers to work outside of these hours and have time to disconnect at alternative times in the day.

Where is it implemented?

France is considered a pioneer in this area, leading the way in implementing laws that grant the right to disconnect. It is worked out on an individual basis to create charters that meet the needs of different businesses so companies can put their own regulations in place to determine when staff are not supposed to be disconnected.

Most recently, in April this year, Ireland granted employees the right to disconnect under a Code of Practice. Encompassed in the code is the right for employees to not have to engage in work-related matters after hours and the right not to be penalised for doing so. Additionally, workers must universally respect the right for others to disconnect.

Similar legislation has also been introduced across Europe, in countries such as Italy and Spain but there is currently no legislation in the pipeline for the UK. 

How is it beneficial?

Allowing employees time to really disconnect is beneficial for mental wellbeing and productivity and reduces the chance of staff burnout. In an increasingly remote business world, it’s fundamental to maintain a distinction between work and life.

Overall staff morale and enthusiasm is likely to dwindle if employees feel overworked and lacking in rest, which can have negative repercussions for employee retention and company reputation. The right to disconnect enables employees not to feel guilty about not responding after hours and allows for a better overall work/life balance.

How can disconnecting be encouraged?

Despite the fact that the UK government currently does not intend to implement right to disconnect legislation, there are several actions that employers can take to tackle overworking.

It should be clearly communicated to employees that they won’t be penalised for not working beyond their contracted hours and companies should encourage their staff not to respond to or send work-related communications outside of those hours. Employees should be able to take adequate holiday and have at least one rest break in the day where they can step away from their desk. Employers also have a duty to check in on staff regularly to ensure their wellbeing is not adversely affected by work.

The benefits of disconnecting cannot be underestimated, for employers and employees alike, and the increasing recognition of this is encouraging moving forward. With remote working looking like it’s set to stay, avoiding staff burnout and setting boundaries is more important than ever.

Ideas for workplace fun in the sun – hopefully!

Workplace culture is one of the top factors linked to employee happiness. That and the fact that any job is all about the people and engaged teams produce results.

It is also very important that colleagues get on and work together well to be productive, effective and fulfilled, and while friendship can’t be forced, social connections need to be encouraged and woven into a company’s culture to help employees get to know each other outside their roles, to build strong teams and increase employee engagement and communication.

With summer here and lockdown restrictions being eased, people might not have to endure too many Zoom office quizzes! We can now go outside – if the weather is clement and take a break in our daily routine, especially if that routine has been Microsoft Teams from the box bedroom in the back of your house.

Being social doesn’t have to revolve around booze either and there are many ways and means of organising social activities to ensure they are inclusive. Define the goals and then establish the budget, who the planning team is and whether some of the activities are compulsory or not. Choose a date that everyone can make and get it into the diary as early as possible. Chose an activity that everyone can participate in and then build the excitement.

A good way is for staff themselves to brainstorm and come up with some ideas and then survey the most popular. And the activities themselves are almost limitless, although budget dependent. But given it’s summer going outside is an easy first step. We all benefit from unplugging from technology, being able to breath and rejuvenate in nature.

Rambling with packed lunches or hill walking or orienteering with a pub drink as a reward are easy fun activities, as are high ropes adventures in beautiful trees. Scavenger or treasure hunts and ‘geoteching’ are great for team building too. 

It’s also Olympics year, so why not create your own company version and compete in various games of skill – it doesn’t have to be the shot put or the 110 metre hurdles, just let your creativity run wild and  remember to consider skill levels!

It wouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the UK that if we’ve already have had our quota of sunny days this year, but don’t let that stop you. There are scores of places to have fun and team build such as ball game venues offering table tennis, pool, crazy golf and beer pong, or escape room challenges (no irony meant), or go-karting. There is of course still fun to be had in the rain!

It doesn’t have to be all high-energy or competitive either. Many companies choose karaoke nights, chocolate making classes or cocktail masterclasses to have fun and build camaraderie. Or how about team lunches, a gentle picnic or a summer paella party?

To foster a good workplace culture, a supportive and open environment, office getaways or activity days shouldn’t be a tagged on after thought to company policy or even limited to the summer months. Many companies implement weekly or monthly activities like board game tournaments, office quizzes or just beers and pizza in the boardroom.

Bottom line though, after the year we’ve had, companies should make it a priority for employees to spend quality time together. It will help relationships blossom and bring the workplace together.

Why Employers Must Be Wary Of Presenteeism In The “New Normal”

While a significant number of businesses are now beginning their phased return back to the office (or equivalent workspace), many more will have made the temporarily-enforced shift to remote working a permanent arrangement.

While this comes with a laundry list of benefits for the workforce such as improved sleep – please do check out our Global Working From Home Survey for the full story on this step-change – there may also be a resurgence in a very unhealthy working trend: presenteeism.

For those unfamiliar with presenteeism, you will likely be aware that, when ill, not every employee opts to take the time off they should. Whether out of an extreme work ethic, management pressures or worries over their advancement prospects if they take time off, they continue to show up for work despite feeling unwell, and are likely far less productive as a result. This, in a nutshell, is presenteeism.

Unfortunately, the issue of presenteeism appears to have been exacerbated by employees working remotely, meaning it is crucial for managers and team leaders to be vigilant. Recent research from the CIPD revealed that 77% of employers have observed presenteeism from employees working from home over the past year – with 43% of these admitting that they were taking no action to prevent it.

When employees are working from home, it is all-too-easy to hide illness or signs that something isn’t right mentally, and employers that do not recognise this and take appropriate action will, at best, run the risk of losing their top talent to a competitor and, at worst, see their staff put at serious risk of burnout and other mental health issues. 

So, what can employers do?

In order to minimise the risk of presenteeism, businesses must build an open, inclusive working culture wherein staff feel safe and supported. In this environment, if a member of staff feels unwell, or if they have an issue that may affect their work, they will feel comfortable taking the issue to their managers so that a solution can be found.

Particularly when working from home, staff still need to stay in regular contact with their managers, and to be encouraged to take the time off they need when they feel ill. Managers and more senior members of staff also need to lead by example and take the time off they need, when they need it.

Particularly for businesses that have made working from home their “new normal”, companies must take a preventative, rather than reactive approach to employee wellness, ensuring it is always front of mind throughout every facet of the business. By doing this, employers will enjoy a happier, more engaged workforce, while reducing the risk of presenteeism.

It’s a cliché, but that makes it no less true – people are the lifeblood of any business. Encourage their development, offer them the benefits that matter most to them and support them in sickness and in health, and your business will reap the rewards. To find out more about how Wrkit can support your company with its talent engagement and wellbeing strategy, visit www.wrkit.com.

8 Tips To Create A Psychologically Safe Work Environment

Psychological safety describes people’s perceptions of the consequences of taking interpersonal risks in a particular context such as a workplace” Amy C. Edmondson

The phenomenon of psychological safety first appeared in organisational literature in the mid 60’s. A key researcher in the area, Edgar Schein believed that when individuals feel psychologically safe they are free to focus on collective goals and problem prevention rather than on self-protection. According to Amy Edmondson, a leading academic in the field, “organisational research has identified psychological safety as a critical factor in understanding phenomena such as voice, teamwork, team learning, and organisational learning.”

In 2015 Google published findings from their own research in the area. Following a four-year study looking at the dynamics which influence team performance (psychological safety, dependability, structure, meaning of work and impact) Google identified that Psychological Safety was by far the most influential dynamic affecting team performance. Furthermore, it was identified that those who were part of psychologically safe teams were less likely to leave Google.

The research tells us that psychologically safe environments yield better results, higher performance and greater revenue. With the bonus of reduced staff turnover, it is something which should be instilled in company culture at board level. Typically, in environments which are not felt to be psychologically safe team members will not be eager to share ideas, discuss problems or disagreements. When communication doesn’t flow freely there can often be a knock-on effect, employees can become disengaged, feel undervalued and will inevitably leave the organisation.

Improving the psychological safety of your team will have an immediate impact on employee experience and enable individuals to perform at their best. There are several ways a leader can improve the psychological safety of their team environment;

  1. Encourage Learning from Mistakes – it’s important for your team to know that they can make mistakes. Failures should be shared and learned from
  2. Admit Your Own Mistakes – it’s uncomfortable to say, “I messed up” but as a leader if you can admit to your own mistakes then your team will feel more comfortable doing the same
  3. Be Inclusive – in an increasingly diverse workforce including everyone is more important than ever. In team huddles and meetings ask people by name if they have any questions, feedback etc.
  4. Encourage Questions – no matter what stage a project is at encourage questions and appreciate those who are forthcoming with questions
  5. Ask Questions – the more questions you ask of your team the greater their involvement in find solutions.
  6. Be Open Minded – when you encourage people to share ideas and ask questions it is important to be open minded when you receive the feedback. Not everything has to be acted on but all ideas should be encouraged.
  7. Establish Accountability – People feel safe when they are confident about who is doing what
  8. Be Available – Always reiterate that you are there to help and support your team and your door is always open (if you have a door)

 

Author: Sara Glynn, Marketing Manager @Wrkit

 

Recognising and dealing with disengaged employees.

Increasingly we are hearing the phrase “employee engagement” in our dialogues with clients, but often the term lacks a clear definition. If an organisation is looking to improve employee engagement is that the same as increasing employee happiness? Or is it more like employee satisfaction? In reality employee engagement goes much deeper than simply being satisfied with a job, or happy in a workplace.

Forbes contributor Kevin Kruse considers employee engagement as; the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals. While Gallup defines engaged employees as “those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work, and who contribute to their organisation in a positive manner”.

Understandably we see employers focus on the already engaged members of their team – these are star performers and keeping them as such is a top priority. However let’s consider those who are not engaged, or worse, are actively disengaged? An employee who turns up, works without passion, but is satisfied just doing their day-to-day is volatile and can be easily swayed by the organisations actions or by the actions of their peers.

While they teeter between engagement and active disengagement, non-engaged employees usually don’t pose a toxic threat within their work environment. The real danger lies with those who are actively disengaged – unhappy at work and spreading their unhappiness among colleagues. Gallup estimates that in the U.S. active disengagement costs $450 billion to $550 billion per year. While in the United Kingdom actively disengaged employees cost the country between £52 billion and £70 billion per year.

With disengaged employees out numbering engaged employees 2-to-1, it’s important to know the signs and intervene early.

Six Warning Signs

1.      Slipping Standards – If deadlines are being missed and punctuality isn’t what it previously was, then it’s likely you’re dealing someone who has checked-out. Small changes in day-to-day commitment are a first indicator.

2.      Excessive Complaining – Every employee has the right to complain and having an opinion is an important aspect of engagement. But beware of team members who complain constantly and about trivial matters.

3.      Making Excuses – If an employee is frequently making excuses for their actions and shunning responsibility they probably don’t have the organisations goals at heart.

4.      Lacking Enthusiasm – When a new project doesn’t ignite the enthusiasm you expect in an employee it will often be down to lack of engagement.

5.      Independent and unhelpful – Disengaged employees don’t want to help others, and will develop a “that’s not my job” attitude trying to work independently rather than as part of a team.

6.      Not Asking Questions – An employee who isn’t asking questions and striving for personal growth within the company is not looking at the organisation as a long-term employer.

63% of employees fall between engagement and active disengagement, so what steps can you take to re-engage and inspire employees who have switched to auto pilot? The most important thing is having open and honest communication with your team. If an employee is dissatisfied and losing interest it’s important to talk honestly about how they feel and identify the cause. It is important that employees are happy speaking to management about their concerns rather than turning to disengaged peers.

Recognising and rewarding employee contribution is one of the most effective ways to re-engage employees. Feeling appreciated is a basic human need that increases satisfaction and motivation. Implementing a recognition program will have a real impact as recognition promotes positivity, and positivity spreads.

It might seem obvious but making it easy for employees to do their jobs should be a top priority. We’ve all been in a position where we had to do something for work but haven’t had the most suitable tool to do it – it’s frustrating for employees. Whether it’s software, hardware or making sure basic ergonomics are correct, employees should be provided with the necessary tools to work at their best.

One final and very important step is to encourage your team to learn and develop. If you want your employees to have an interest and emotional commitment to your organisation, it needs to work both ways. If an employee wants to take a course to improve their skill set, support that decision. Similarly, if you have a sports or arts enthusiast on your hands then encourage that interest.

Speak to our team today to find out how Wrkit can help build a recognition rich culture in your organisation – info@wrkit.com

Author: Peter Jenkinson, Business Development Director

Sleep deprived workforce’s – the cost, causes, and solutions.

Associated with a range of negative health and social outcomes, sleep deprivation is an underestimated drain on businesses and economies. Adversely affecting performance at school and in the labour market, higher mortality risks and reduced productivity. Back in 2011, Science Daily published findings from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine estimating insomnia to be costing the average U.S. worker 11.3 days, or $2,280 in lost productivity every year. Harvard Business Review also published findings from a Sanofi-Aventis survey which estimated that lost productivity due to poor sleep costs $3,156 per employee with insomnia, and averaged $2,500 for those with less severe sleep problems.

This trend has shown no sign of improving. The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention US (CDC) declared insufficient sleep a ‘public health problem’ in 2016. Currently more than a third of American adults are not getting enough sleep on a regular basis.

Recent research from Rand Europe which used economic modelling of data from five OECD countries found that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours a night have a 13 per cent higher mortality risk than people who sleep at least seven hours. Findings from the research point towards sleep deprivation as a deteriorating global economic problem, currently costing developed world economies $680bn a year.

The economic cost of poor sleep is making employers ‘wake-up’ and take notice. Until now, the sleep quality of an employee was something of a personal matter. As the lines between work and life continue to blur, employers are recognising sleep as a key influencer on performance but what about the health cost? Over time, regular sleep deprivation can result in chronic illness. According to the NHS website, lack of sleep can affect a person’s:

  • Immune system
  • Weight
  • Mental wellbeing
  • Susceptibility to type two diabetes
  • Libido
  • Blood pressure and heart disease
  • Fertility

Not to mention the increased chance of accidental death. This all adds up to a lot of bad news for individuals who live a sleep deprived life and those organisations who employ them.

So, what’s causing the problem and how can employers tackle it? A combination of things including changing work life balance, increased stress and anxiety, personal lifestyle choices and societal changes. As an employer, implementing policies to tackle work stress is an obvious action but how do we influence what our employees do on their own time? It’s a challenge, and before starting to look at solutions we need to understand the type of ‘sleepers’ we’re dealing with. Common sleep disorders and problems can include; insomnia, snoring, sleep apnoea, restless leg syndrome, narcolepsy, night, teeth grinding, leg cramps, terrors and sleep walking. With the addition of those who have poor sleep patterns this is a long and complex list for any organisation to tackle.

In the US market, there are a handful of employers leading the way in making positive change to support better sleep, but ‘sleep pods’ and ‘nap rooms’ aren’t appropriate for every industry. For those looking to take proactive steps here’s basic things you can do in any industry.

  1. Understand the sleep patterns of your organisationBefore you can implement a program to help your workforce you need to have an overview of their sleep struggles. Conduct an anonymous survey within your workforce to establish the basic sleep patterns.
  2. Implement specific programs From your survey results create tailored sleep support and wellness programs. Programs like afternoon meditation can help combat workplace psychosocial risks too.
  3. Combat workplace psychosocial risks It’s not surprising that sleep and psychosocial risks have a negative relationship. It’s the responsibility of employers to reduce work related stress and do what they can to combat these risks.
  4. Educate your staff – Like anything in life, the more educated you are, the more informed your decisions will be. Most people don’t realise the long term and chronic health effects sleep deprivation can have, so inform your workforce. Let them know that sleep goes beyond feeling groggy in work. Have information readily available about what can affect your sleep.
  5. Brighten the place upCreate bright work spaces with as much natural light as possible. Working in dull, poorly lit spaces affects our circadian rhythm.
  6. Discourage the extended use of electronic devices – Encourage regular breaks from screens throughout the working day. Although you can’t be there after hours to make sure your employees aren’t spending hours on LinkedIn, Snapchat, ASOS or whatever else, you can and should enforce a company policy of ‘no emails after work’.

Sleep is a vital element to an individual’s health, wellbeing, and performance. With stress simulations on the rise, an ideal solution for progressive employers is to find one affective solution for two very costly problems. Our POWR Life tool facilitates users to self-assess their sleep, in addition to other key areas of wellbeing. Individuals access specific sleep behavioural management plans and resources, while contributing sleep related data to the overall company POWR score. The data collected provides HR with an anonymised aggregated overview of sleep ‘performance’ for the entire company. Resources and ongoing communication from the tool educate users about their wellbeing, while the corporate challenges feature also provides a space for managers to implement company-wide challenges to support initiatives such as afternoon mediation.

Speak to our team today to find out how POWR Life can help maximise your employee performance – info@wrkit.com

Author: Jonathan O’Connell – Wrkit CEO

Employee fitness – does it really affect your business?

On the build-up to Wellbeing Day 2017 there was an increased level of ‘fit’ and ‘food’ chat around our offices. It was a fantastic bi-product of this national initiative but left me wondering about the sustainable and ongoing wellbeing programs offered by employer organisations. Are we doing enough to encourage an active lifestyle? Does it really matter if we’re not?

According to the NHS, to stay healthy adults should be active daily and aim to achieve at least 150 minutes of physical activity over a week through a variety of activities – that’s approximately 22 minutes a day. With obesity and related chronic illness on the rise it seems people just aren’t finding the time to get active – it is our responsibility as employers to encourage our employees to be active.

Putting aside the ethics of caring about your employees, there are so many business reasons to encourage this behaviour as part of the working day. Exercise has a profound positive impact on individuals mental and physical health each with a knock-on effect to your business.

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise

  1. Reduced Stress – The economic cost of stress in the workplace is ever increasing – research shows that exercising with an elevated heart rate can reduce mental and physical stress. Getting active and breaking a sweat can increase concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress.
  2. Improved Self-Confidence – For the individual, physical exercise can boost self-esteem and improve positive self-image. Confidant sales people, customer service reps positive about the impact they make, developers and designers boldly innovating – Confident individuals contribute to a confident business.
  3. Boost BrainpowerStudies have shown that cardiovascular exercise can create new brain cells and improve overall brain performance. Physically active employees may be more efficient in their roles, performing at an enhanced mental capacity.
  4. Sharpened Memory – Regular physical activity boosts memory and improves our ability to learn new things. If you are investing in training your team, you should be investing in their physical activity also.
  5. Prevent Cognitive Decline – Working out, especially between age 25 and 45, boosts chemicals in the brain that support and prevent degeneration of the hippocampus, an important part of the brain for memory and learning. With an ever-aging workforce getting your team active now will pay off in the long run.
  6. Inspire Creativity – The Huffington Post sites research within the area of exercise, mood and creativity which found that working-out with an elevated heart rate can boost creativity for two hours post work-out. If you are looking across the table at a designer with ‘designers block’ it’s in your best interest to encourage them to take a break a go for a jog.

These mental benefits are just the tip of iceberg, combined with the positive impact on physical health your business could see improvements to:

  • productivity
  • business performance
  • staff morale
  • employee engagement

In addition to reducing:

  • accidents and work-related ill health;
  • absenteeism and sick pay
  • insurance costs

The negative physical effects of a sedentary lifestyle are well publicised but it’s important to realise as an individual and as an employer – if a person is not getting regular exercise it impacts cognitive ability as well as health.

Speak to our team today to find out how POWR Life can help maximise your employee performance – info@wrkit.com

Author: Jonathan O’Connell – Wrkit CEO