How to reduce stress for International Stress Awareness Week
This week marks International Stress Awareness Week (4th to 8th November 2019), organised by the International Stress Management Association
New research from Canada Life Group Insurance has found that 89% of workers had not taken a day off when they weren’t feeling well – this is the equivalent of 29 million UK employees going into work sick. Of those who admitted to working while unwell, three in five (58%) said it was because they did not believe they were ill enough to warrant a day off, while a quarter (27%) said it was because they had too much work on.
Almost a quarter (24%) also said they would feel more comfortable taking time off for illness if there was less pressure from the boss to be ‘always on’ and working.
According to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) increased presenteeism is associated with increases in reported common mental health conditions, as well as stress-related absence. CIPD says that stress is the second top cause of long-term absence.
Email is the curse of the modern worker. A study published in the International Journal of Information Management found office workers take an average of 64 seconds after checking email to reorient themselves to get back to work. This can’t be very productive.
Companies are increasingly curbing email use to tackle burnout, with businesses such as German carmaker Volkswagen, restricting email. Volkswagen has configured its servers so emails can be sent to employees’ phones from half an hour before the working day begins to half an hour after it ends only and not at all during weekends. And, last year, Lidl bosses in Belgium banned all internal email traffic between 18:00 and 07:00 to help staff clear their minds and enjoy time off.
In order to get your inbox under control think about reducing the number of emails you send. It sounds obvious, but most emails we send and receive aren’t very urgent, yet our brain treats every message, regardless of content, as if it’s time-sensitive. So, think about each email and how urgently it needs a reply.
When you first open an email, answer this question before closing it: When does this require a response? Then, tag it as either “Today” or “This Week.” Doing so attaches the most important information to each new message. Of course, for super-urgent, email-me-right-now type of messages, go ahead and respond.
In contrast, a new study by the University of Sussex has suggested that banning staff from accessing their work emails outside office hours could do more harm than good to employee wellbeing.
Researchers found while a ban could help some staff switch off, it could also stop people achieving work goals, causing stress. According to the research, strict policies on email use could be harmful to employees with “high levels of anxiety and neuroticism”. That was because such employees needed to feel free to respond to a “growing accumulation of emails”, or they could end up feeling even more stressed and overloaded, the researchers said.
The key takeaway seems to be, do what is best for you. Be self-aware and if setting restrictions on email is what you need, give yourself that time out. Alternatively, if the thought of cutting yourself off causes you to feel stressed, keep calm and carry on.
Having problems with your workload? Ask for help
You will eventually break yourself if you take on too much. You can only complete so many tasks, and consume so much information. In fact, a LexisNexis survey of 1,700 professionals in the U.S., China, South Africa, the U.K. and Australia showed that typically employees spend more than half their workday receiving and managing information rather than using it to do their jobs. And 50% of those workers reported that they were reaching a breaking point.
Everyone needs a hand from time to time. Try to discuss your workload with your manager and talk about setting realistic targets and how you can solve any problems you’re having. Ask for a small amount of help initially and see what kind of impact that makes, then work up to requesting assistance with the bigger stuff, too.
We all do it. We all like to believe we don’t have a breaking point — a spot where the workload is too much, the task is beyond our expertise, and we simply don’t know if we can handle it anymore.
And some people see asking for help as a sign of weakness and will do anything to avoid it. But it doesn’t have to. Because asking for help can also do something else — it can help us create better results.
The people we ask for help seldom see that as a sign of weakness – most people are more than willing to lend a hand when it matters.
Consider asking for flexible working to allow you to work at home now and again to reduce stress. For instance, some companies let employees do a nine-day fortnight which means they can get every second Friday off.
Microsoft was highlighted by the BBC this week for their trial of a four-day week, where employees were on full pay. Following the trial, Microsoft said sales had been boosted by nearly 40% during the experiment.
The technology giant said it was planning to implement a second Work Life Choice Challenge this winter but would not be offering the same “special leave”, but instead staff will be encouraged to take time off to “rest smartly”, putting the decision in the hands of its employees. We look forward to seeing the results.
In contrast, the concept of a 9-to-5 work day seems almost quaint today for young workers. Most are shifting their lives in accordance with individual schedules that are “rarely completely within their individual control,” The Conversation writes.
Adjusting to 24-7 schedules is increasingly common. Less than 35% of workers aged between 23 and 29 work a standard 9am to 5pm day. However, the demands of the 24-7 world is challenging personal relationships, the research found, with the majority using apps to schedule time with family or partners.
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