Employers need to help employees switch off over the Festive period
It’s a hectic time of year. With Christmas parties, festive shopping to do and all those loose ends to tie up at work before we can all put our out of offices on and take time to relax, unwind with loved ones so we can return to work in the new year feeling energised. Right? Sadly in our 24/7 world employees are finding it increasingly hard to disconnect from work even over the festive period.
Whether heading off to the alps or planning a relaxing time at home with family, the real challenge from a health and wellbeing perspective is actually just getting away from that little device in our pockets or handbags.
Research released last Christmas revealed that over half of UK workers (52%) check their emails over the Christmas holidays with nearly a third (29%) checking on Christmas day itself.
These days we carry “the office” around with us. Digital technology, and in particular our smartphones, have brought so much flexibility to our working lives resulting in there being no need to be tethered to the desk to do our jobs.
The flipside to this, however, is a growing inability to properly disconnect from work outside of office hours – be that evenings, weekends or even during national holidays – and the growing worry among health and wellbeing professionals of the negative impact this may potentially be having on people. Employers need to revisit whether, in a world of smartphones and “always on” connectivity, workers are ever actually getting a proper break from work as failing to do so means employees are at risk of burnout and problems in their personal life.
Inability to disconnect
Studies are already showing the impact of our inability to disconnect from work and constantly checking in to the office through digital devices.
For example, the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development/Simplyhealth 2018 Health and Wellbeing report highlighted that 87% of people reported that an inability to switch off had a negative impact on their wellbeing.
More recently, research in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health concluded that working longer hours and weekends contributed to worse mental health.
The World Health Organization, too, has argued that by next year work-related stress and burnout will be amongst the world’s most prevalent diseases; in fact it has even classed burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” within its 11th revision of its International Classification of Diseases for the first time. The lack of boundaries many of us feel around our work technology is undoubtedly a hugely contributing factor to this.
The psychological rest you experience during a period of annual leave simply isn’t the same if you are checking your inbox regularly either because of an expectation from your employer or a self-imposed obligation.
If we are to perform at our best, and maintain some level of work-life balance, which is essential to our wellbeing, then it is imperative we bring some sense of control to how we are using our inboxes and other workplace communications.
So, what is the answer? At an organisational level businesses need to start to address this issue properly. Rather than what is often a wishy-washy, unspoken issue in most workplaces, employers need to consider putting some standards in place for staff so that they understand the need to have a proper break from work.
The relationship people have with their inboxes is often complex and companies need to support their staff to know they can and should disconnect from work. Putting the topic on the HR agenda and instilling a level of enforcement is key.
At individual level employees need to reflect on the impact their constant contact with the office is having when they are trying to enjoy some downtime with family and friends especially during times like Christmas when it can be a rare occasion for family or friendship groups to get together.
One of the simplest choices all employees can make, regardless of their work or personal commitments, is to own two separate phones – one for work and one for personal. By creating this very clear digital boundary workers can start to feel in control of their time and put appropriate rules in place as to when they are and are not going to be contactable.
Communicating the necessity and intention to take a real break is also important so colleagues’ expectations can be managed. A colleague who makes it clear they won’t be checking their inbox over Christmas or indeed anytime they are taking a holiday, and so should only be called in the event of a true emergency, is unambiguous about their intention to disconnect.
Businesses with their eye on the future, who are taking the health of their employees seriously, are already starting to put digital wellbeing on the agenda and understanding the importance of their employees work life boundaries not just over Christmas but throughout the year. As the world continues to get faster, and connectivity becomes ever-more the norm, now is the time for employers to ensure their people are embracing downtime – whenever they take it – so that they return to work feeling rejuvenated, refreshed and ready to continue to give their very best.
- Half of people will check work emails over Christmas, https://www.shponline.co.uk/wellbeing/half-of-people-will-check-work-emails-over-christmas/
- Health and well-being at work, CIPD and Simplyhealth, 2018, https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/culture/well-being/health-well-being-work
- Weston at al (2019). Long work hours, weekend working and depressive symptoms in men and women: findings from a UK population-based study, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, available online at https://jech.bmj.com/content/jech/early/2019/02/08/jech-2018-211309.full.pdf
- Burn-out an “occupational phenomenon”: International Classification of Diseases, May 2019, World Health Organization, https://www.who.int/mental_health/evidence/burn-out/en/
Anna Kotwinski and Laura Willis co-founded Shine Offline in 2016. Shine Offline empowers and supports businesses and their people to help create healthy digital cultures and positive tech behaviours which contribute towards good work life balance, increased efficiency and collaboration and improved staff wellbeing. For more information visit www.shineoffline.com or drop a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
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