When downtime is neglected, the mind cannot function to its full potential. In a survey by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 83 percent of respondents said they spent no time during the day relaxing. Overworked staff can be detrimental to a business, causing both friction within the workplace culture as well as impacting the bottom line.
The most common mental health issues at work are anxiety and stress; in fact, research from HSE indicates that 1 in 4 people in the UK will have a mental health problem at some point. Whilst most problems can be mild and short-term, the acknowledgment of these issues from within teams and by employers is crucial. Good mental health is an asset for businesses and helps employees thrive. Therefore, it is important for organisations to have processes in place that address any stress and mental health issues, especially during these unprecedented times.
Debbie Lentz, President of Global Supply Chain at RS Components and the Electrocomponents Group, discusses raising awareness on the effects of poor mental health in the workplace, and some tips to uplift weary staff.
Why are so many employees neglecting downtime? Recent research reveals that just 60% of staff feels their line manager is genuinely concerned for their wellbeing. Despite these figures rising (58% in 2017 and 55% in 2016), the study also shows that 64% of managers put the interest of the organisation ahead of their employees wellbeing at some point, and 12% do so every day. The lack of awareness and poor mental health training in the workplace continues to be a social issue, and one that needs to be addressed soon.
However, it is positive to see that employers’ recognition of mental health has increased over the last few years; a recent study by CIPD reveals that mental health awareness in the workforce has increased from 31% in 2016 to 51% in 2018. Further research published by the Mental Health Foundation indicates that 86% of respondents believed their jobs and wellbeing at work were important to maintaining and protecting their mental health.
Despite figures revealing an increase in awareness, there is still a general lack of understanding about mental health among employers as misperceptions continue to arise. Promoting positive mental health in the workplace is not an overnight fix, with research from LFS reporting that during 2017/18, 15.4 million working days were lost due to work-related stress, depression or anxiety. It’s important, for both the organisation and the employee, that the benefits of mental health awareness are not ignored.
From ensuring staff members take their full lunch hours to encouraging them to take short walks throughout the day – or even implementing exercise or meditation sessions – there are a number of ways employers can put processes in place to reduce stress and improve the mental health at work.
Stop skipping breaks
There is more to downtime for employees than just taking their annual leaves. There are instances where more employees work right through their lunch hours – in fact, only a third of UK workers say they take a proper lunch break, with many citing that workload, stress levels, and workplace culture are barriers.
Being confined to the desk is not a recipe for success, and in order to ensure employees are working to the best of their abilities, breaks are critical. Without adequate breaks, mental health and wellbeing can be seriously jeopardised, resulting in burnout and even meaning having to take time out of work.
In order to allow the brain to function actively on a long-term basis, it needs rest. Employees should take 15-20 minutes away from their work a couple of times a day at the very minimum – a proven way to keep up energy and concentration levels.
Get strict with downtime
One of the key purposes of downtime is to give the mind a chance to switch off for a while. Taking time away to reflect on the things learnt during the day gives the brain the chance to better absorb information at first glance.
Consider the time it takes to wind down from a marathon meeting, where the brain has been working overtime and processing information at the rate of knots. More often than not, employees are likely to walk out of the meeting feeling mentally and physically drained. So, instead of rushing back to their desks to clear through emails, employees should take five minutes to relax, settle down and allow their brains to recharge. And when they do head back to their laptops or workstations, they’ll find their attention levels and minds are much sharper.
If team members are not naturally inclined to take a break, consider scheduling in downtime for them. This is a great way of incentivising them to give their best. Rewarding them for their impact and the value they have created during the hours put in will ultimately result in the best returns for productivity, a more focused and stable workforce, and improved work-life balance.
Studies from the Office for National Statistics found that 38% of employees feel obliged to stay at work longer as a way of appearing more productive. However, it has been found that working longer hours is counterproductive, and is associated with higher instances of mental illness, strokes and heart disease. Another research from Stanford University shows a significant decrease in employees productivity after they work for 50 hours a week, which dropped further after 55 hours a week.
To some, productivity can often mean focusing on the length of time a project or task may take to complete, as opposed to what has been accomplished in that working day. Breaking down work items and focusing on smaller activities will help employees feel they’ve accomplished more which in turn can boost morale and productivity. A study by Behance highlights that placing importance on hours and physical presence over action and results can lead to a culture of inefficiency and anxiety. Setting smaller, more achievable tasks can promote healthier working habits in the long term.
The perception stakeholders place on presenteeism should be done away with; increasing downtime can surely increase productivity, and benefits of doing very little shouldn’t be frowned upon. If anything, downtime can spark creativity and imagination and being too busy can distract employees from achieving their absolute best.
Author bio: Debbie Lentz joined Electrocomponents plc. in 2017 as the President of the company’s Global Supply Chain. She is responsible for leading the development of the group’s supply chain capability to provide an innovative and sustainable market-leading service for customers and suppliers.