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The benefits of rest, of taking time off from work, have been well known for centuries, yet the more we progress as a species, the more we seem to forget this. Covid-19 has driven a massive increase in the numbers of people working from home, with mixed results. While it has forced previously sceptical employers to test and prove the benefits of home working (flexibility, time saving, independence etc), it has also blurred the line between work and rest. And that’s not good for business.
Even prior to Covid-19, the balance between work and play was tipping precariously. People across the world have been working longer and longer hours in a frenetic race to “get more done”. But studies show that the countries with the highest average weekly working hours, such as the United States, do no have the highest productivity. On the contrary, in fact; productivity is highest where employers recognise and instil the benefits of rest, relaxation and switching off.
Not only are people working longer hours, thanks to their smartphones, tablets and other devices, they are remaining connected to work for longer too – sometimes around the clock. This has become known as the ‘always-on culture’ and it is not good for our health. One study found that people with high levels of stress cost an extra 50% in healthcare expenditure. And the inability to switch off from work is a proven cause of stress.
It also causes sleep deprivation, fatigue, poor diet, bad moods, interference with home life and high blood pressure, with knock-on effects being diminished creativity and loss of concentration.
Last year, Myers-Briggs, the profiling people, published a study called Type and the Always-On Culture. Its purpose was to look at the effect of being permanently connected to work on different personality types. While some types were more resilient than others, it concluded that people with access to work emails and calls outside work were more stressed. Among the negative effects reported, 28% said they couldn’t switch off mentally, 26% experienced interference with their home life and 20% reported suffering from mental exhaustion.
All of which should ring alarm bells for employers. Who wants a workforce that is worn out, irritable, unable to focus, unproductive and sick?
So what should you do? In short, employers need to recognise the benefits of rest and promote a ‘not always on culture’. Be careful not to create an atmosphere in which employees think they’re expected to be on call late into the evening. Facilitate exercise and relaxation activities. Make sure they take their full allocation of holiday and that they use it to switch off from work. Let them know it’s ok to be Out of Office for a week or two. Activities that take your mind off work have been shown to be beneficial for creativity, energy and enthusiasm for work. Even if you can’t get away on an exotic holiday, a week at home gardening, decorating or playing with the kids will take your mind off work and help you recharge your batteries.
Just as IT has created the always-on culture, it can help to control it too. You can place time restrictions on availability of email, for example, as they did in France. Once you have decided your company policy on working hours and expectations, we can set up your IT systems to implement that policy automatically, with degrees of flexibility built in where required, so your employees are protected from the compulsion to remain “on” at all hours.
Keeping a workforce happy, healthy and productive is balancing act that requires good leadership backed up by IT. Ask us about it. We’re always happy to help.