3 key factors to consider to promote workplace wellbeing
I’ve previously shared the 6 key areas of work that need to be managed effectively to promote healthy employee wellbeing, which not only reduces stress and absenteeism but also boosts productivity.
In this article, I want to focus on one of these areas that the HSE identify as being critical for promoting employee wellbeing and increasing productivity. Managing the demands placed on your employees.
What do we mean by “the demands”?
The HSE Management Standards identify 6 key areas of work that need to be properly managed to promote good health, increased productivity and reduced accident and sickness rates. If not, they could be the root causes of stress for employees (See my previous blog about this). They are Demands, Control, Support, Relationships, Role and Change. In relation to the area of demands, the workload should be proportionate to the agreed working hours and be both adequate and achievable.
The HSE standard for Demands is that “employees indicate that they are able to cope with the demands of their jobs, and systems are in place locally to respond to any individual concerns”.
The key concept here is managing what we call “the work” – all those tasks, projects or jobs associated with keeping your business running smoothly. With technology in our pockets and remote connections, it’s become commonplace for people to respond to emails and deadline stressors in the evenings, at the weekends and even while on holiday.
It’s never been easier for people to take their work home with them and to do even more after hours, giving false belief that they are on top of their workload, all the while taking away from their personal lives. But at what cost?
HSE research revealed that workload accounted for 44% of workplace stress, by far the biggest contributor, way above challenges such as bullying or lack of support. If we then consider the International Stress Management Association’s definition of stress, which is, “the adverse reaction people have to excessive pressures or other types of demand placed upon them” it is evident why considering the demands of someone’s job is imperative to ensuring their wellbeing.
Working long hours is endemic in some organisations and is often seen as something necessary to achieve recognition or promotion and even worn as a badge of honour. Often, this is perpetuated by senior managers who never seem to stop, when in fact, they should be leading by example and establishing a healthy work-life balance and encouraging others to follow suit.
A recent employment tribunal found that a managing partner of a Legal 500 regional law firm, who was suffering from burn-out, was callously discriminated against by his employer. Most of all they failed to understand his condition or to respond appropriately.
The firm had benefitted financially from his drive and passion for his work. As one of the top billers at this company, regularly recording 2 600 chargeable hours with an additional 200-300 working on business development; This meant that he was putting in 15+ hours per day! Yet when it came down to his own mental health and wellbeing, the company failed to address his excessive working or lack of annual leave, instead choosing to ignore the warning signs and ultimately contributing to his burnout.
A wake-up call for workplaces that have a long-hours culture, to the real threat of burn-out and other mental ill-health. Employers may be liable, for not only discrimination (as in this case) but also possibly psychiatric injury, if they do not take appropriate steps to protect their workforce.
How much is too much Workload
I am confident no employer sets out to overwork their staff, so just how do organisations end up placing excessive demands upon employees? Very often it is caused by workload slip, with extra tasks and deadlines being added to the growing pile and nothing taken away until an employee is left overwhelmed. If your employees have more work to do in a week than they can complete in normal working hours, then they are overburdened, leaving no wriggle room for those extra tasks that often arise.
With technology in our pockets, it has been commonplace for people to respond to emails in the evenings, at the weekends or quickly “checking in” while on holiday. Remote connections are now making it easy for people to do even more out of hours, giving false belief that they are on top of things in the office, all the while taking away from their personal lives at home.
Can the workload be too little?
At the other end of the spectrum, if employees are not given a sufficiently challenging workload, it can lead to performance issues such as:
- loss of awareness
- and reduced alertness
All of which makes people feel that their skills are being underused and can lead to them feeling less secure in their job roles. Getting the balance right can be challenging.
For anyone who’s dealt with a constantly crazy workload, a week or two of coasting, where you don’t have much to do could sound like a welcome reprieve. However, to quote those inspirational motivational speakers of the ’90s – the Spice Girls: “Too much of something is bad enough, but… too much of nothing is just as tough.”
Although we can’t make all our informed decisions on “Girl Power” alone, they do have a point. An unmanageable workload is tough, but a lack of work can be just as hard on our mental wellbeing.
When every day is a slow day at work, it can be hard to stay motivated and be present in your role. It can even make you question your motivations and if your talents could perhaps be put to better use elsewhere – in another department or even another organisation.
2. Work patterns
It’s not just about the amount of work though, it’s also about the kind of hours workers are expected to carry out:
- irregular shifts
- split shifts
- being on call
- overtime expectations
All of these work patterns place higher demands on employees and their social lives and can have a direct impact on an employee’s physical and mental wellbeing.
The traditional 9-5 Monday to Friday working week has also changed for many, with more employers now offering flexible and remote working options. But with it comes a certain expectation to be ‘always on’ and to be contactable outside of normal working hours. This can lead to employees feeling like they can never truly switch off from work, which can have a detrimental effect on their wellbeing and family life.
A healthy work pattern is vital for a healthy workforce. Organisations should consider the following when looking at their work patterns:
- Do the hours fit with employees’ other commitments such as childcare?
- Can the work be done more flexibly to allow for a better work/life balance?
- Are there any health and safety implications of the work pattern?
- What are the mental and physical wellbeing implications of the work pattern?
- Is the work pattern sustainable in the long term?
Of course, there is a necessity in many industries for 24-hour cover and shift work. But employers may consider how they can make shift patterns as healthy and sustainable as possible for their employees. For example:
- ensuring there is enough rest time between shifts
- offering regular health checks
- and promoting a healthy lifestyle outside of work
The pandemic has offered us an unprecedented opportunity to rethink our approach to work-life balance and given rise towards more flexible, healthier scheduling practices that allow employees greater freedom and less stress from heavy workloads or long hours.
3. Working environment
Managing work demands doesn’t just mean looking at the work itself, but also the environment in which it is carried out. This isn’t just the physical environment but also the workplace culture and its approach to mental wellbeing; creating a safe space to open up about how employees are feeling about their workload.
As we’ve said the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound effect on the way we work, with many people now working remotely from home. While there are many benefits to this, it can also be isolating and lead to feelings of disconnection from colleagues. It’s important to make sure that employees feel connected and supported, even when they’re not in the office.
Another aspect of working environment demands, that we should consider, relates to the skills and abilities of each employee and we are not setting them up to fail. Careful consideration should be given to the requirements of the role, and if an individual does not have the adequate skills to effectively perform, suitable training and/or support should be put in place to ensure they feel confident to carry out their job.
When you match people’s abilities and talents to their job roles you can avoid creating more stress for employees and the company. They will feel more confident about carrying out their responsibilities, which will lead you towards greater productivity in your business!
Managing work demands
Setting an employee up for success is not just the best way to go, it’s the only way to go. After all, how would you feel if it were your spouse, son, or granddaughter being affected by having excessive demands placed upon them? Would you not want their employer to manage those demands with empathy and compassion?
Developing psychological safety in the workplace, where individuals can openly express ideas, questions, or fears, promotes honesty and trust. Employees should feel confident and be encouraged, to talk to their managers about any concerns they have around the demands that are being placed upon them. Most importantly managers must listen to concerns raised, and address them.
If organisations took a closer look at these 3 key areas of demand, when conducting a wellbeing review they will be in a much better position to manage and support employees through periods of high demand.
If you would like help tackling the growing work demands on staff in your organisation, please get in touch with Fiona at More Than Motivation. As a member of the International Stress Management Association and holder of a CPCAB accredited Level 5 Diploma in Mental Health & Wellbeing Awareness, I can help you carry out a stress risk assessment, develop a wellbeing strategy and deliver wellbeing awareness training that will help protect your employees and improve your bottom line.