Many of us have experienced either exhaustion or burnout, or witnessed how our friends and teams suffer from them. What can we do to prevent this? Can we improve our well-being with small changes in our workdays? Giving people more control over how they do their work, providing sufficient feedback, and emphasizing the need for rest and recovery may be the key to better Human Experience, improved and sustained well-being, as well as productivity.
In recent years, the intensity of work has increased in Europe and in the US, meaning that many employees are facing a high work pace, tight deadlines, and insufficient time to complete their work. Evidence shows clearly that work-related stress and mental issues lead to increased absenteeism and staff turnover rates, along with decreased productivity and performance. As much as 30% of sickness absences can be caused by stress according to ILO research. Another study conducted by the EU found that hundreds of billions of euros are lost in Europe alone due to the same reasons.
What can you do in the workplace to minimize stress?
Whether your team is experiencing exhaustion or has a positive drive, there is a lot you can do. There are several ways to influence your team or organization already during the workday and in the workplace. You should also support your employees with capabilities and limits to enable resting, relaxation and unwinding after work. Try these four impactful ways of improving stress management and overall well-being at work:
1. Develop and promote autonomy in your team or organization
Experiencing autonomy both in decision making and organizing one's work allows your team to set their limits and balance their workload better.
Autonomy is also one of the key elements in developing higher employee satisfaction and positive drive. Autonomy may offer individuals better or more opportunities for recovery, because they can organize their tasks to fit the ever-changing challenges and situations. Autonomy lets people also develop their skills and improve learning based on their character strengths.
2. Create a culture of feedback
The possibility to receive and give sufficient feedback can help individuals to reduce the tendency to worry about work-related issues and know whether they are meeting the expectations of others.
When you don't have to stress about your performance, you can use that time and energy to rest, recuperate, and recover from other work related stress. Getting enough feedback also has lots of other positive impacts on mental well-being. It is probably the cheapest medicine you have for improving mental wellbeing.
3. Support personal control
Is it OK in your team's culture to spend the lunch break outside or go for a short walk during the day if you feel you need one? This is an example of having personal control. These actions have a positive impact on mental well-being because they enable a bit of detachment from work, give a small break for you to clear your thoughts, and return to your work tasks with more focus and energy. Supporting personal control and the feeling of having it helps, e.g., by giving your team a better chance to maintain their own focus and productivity.
4. Promote off-work rest and relaxation after work
Your team needs to have time to unwind and time to spend with their families or on their hobbies. These social interactions and self-developing activities have a positive impact on your team's well-being and productivity the next day.
You should lead by example. No calls or emails in the evening or night. No spending the whole day and evening at the office. Share in your team about your off-work relaxation, resting, and recuperation habits and activities such as hobbies and sports. Resting and relaxation is the ultimate productivity hack, not the long presenteeism hours at the office or in the Slack channels in the evening.
It's all about the Human Experience in the 2020s
We all know that we need ambitious, positive learning and development challenges at work. We also need enough time to rest and unwind both during the day and outside of work. We have witnessed lots of exhaustion and burnout cases in the recent decade so I want to end this blog on a positive note.
I have already seen the change among knowledge workers getting back control of their time and autonomy. The importance of well-being is being truly acknowledged. More organizations have noticed the positive correlations between well-being, productivity, and customer satisfaction. Companies are already paying more attention to tracking the well-being of employees and also introducing new kinds of well-being initiatives such as mindfulness and meditation at work.
I believe that changing to the intrinsic perspective of Human Experience from the extrinsic perspectives of Employer Branding or Employee Experience will offer new and powerful sources of competitive advantage in the 2020s. We will be witnessing the move from pursuing unsustainable peak performance that has human costs (e.g. burnout) to pursuing sustainable balance in our work and lives. It will lead to improved quality of life and productivity. This is the change we as leaders and people professionals should promote at our companies and in our own lives. We should lead employees and teams to a more balanced and sustained well-being path. Soft human skills accompanied with autonomy and trust are the superpowers of leadership in 2020s.