Work Hard, Rest Hard
Why the ‘Always On’ culture needs to switch off.
The global pandemic has accelerated and reset many major work trends from digital transformation to the rise of the gig economy but perhaps one of the most notable changes has been the definition of ‘workplace.’ Since the initial lockdown was imposed in 2020 and more and more employees have adapted to remote or hybrid working, our homes have become our offices and our offices are our homes.
Since the switch to home working has become commonplace, many organisations have seen greater productivity. According to reports, the average employee clocked up 2.5 hours extra a day during the pandemic as the lines between work and home life became increasingly blurred. With no hard stop at the end of the day and no physical commute to draw a line in the sand, it’s never been easier to fall into work mode 24/7.
In our rapidly changing era of smartphones and tablets, constant notifications and work comms make it difficult to log off for fear of being seen as less dedicated or lazy. Resting is seen as weakness and we feel guilty if we’re not available around the clock. It only takes one peek at that email notification to ping us back into work mode when we’re just about to binge-watch Netflix.
But at what cost?
The ‘Always On’ phenomenon is nothing new. Unhealthy relationships with work are deeply ingrained in our culture – from dragging yourself into work when you’re not feeling 100%(‘presenteeism’) to the ‘part-timer bantz’ if you leave the office at 5pm, the loss of work/life balance was creeping up even before the impact of Covid-19.
And it appears that since the pandemic began and we started working from our makeshift bedroom offices, our sleep habits have changed too. According to the Sleep Foundation, working from home negatively impacts the brain’s ability to switch off which has led to a lack of consistency in bedtime routines. Not having to get up and out for the office commute, sitting for long periods at our desks and spending less energy throughout the day has made getting a decent night’s sleep harder than ever.
So, it’s no wonder that the data trends we’re seeing at T-Cup show a marked correlation between greater wellbeing, weekends and sleep. Simply put, people are happier at weekends when they can rest and sleep for longer.
This may come as no surprise and could, of course, be attributable to a myriad of reasons, but if we take a deeper look at sleep as contributing factor, it’s clear that the culture of being ‘always on ‘coupled with our new way of working, has the potential to wreak havoc with the number of zeds we’re getting. Consistently working late and being unable to switch off could result in a sleep debt or sleep deficit over time – this is the difference between the amount of sleep we need and what we actually get. Insufficient sleep not only harms mental health and wellbeing, but the implications for the workplace are huge – slower thinking, poor decision making and reduced attention span can all have a major impact on business performance.
So, if more work doesn’t equal better performance, how do we redress the balance?
We need to work smarter, not longer
Outlining expectations and new ways of working such as daily “stand-ups” and “sundowners” to open and close the day, setting team availability rules and clarifying expected response times can help to reduce staff anxiety. Encouraging staff to commit to mandatory holidays and proper rest periods is also key to avoiding burnout with many organisations now implementing paid ‘recharge’ days.
In essence, we need to make it ok to not always be on. But if we are indeed to see a sustainable cultural shift, it will need to emanate from the top down. If employees see the Leadership Team regularly making themselves available outside of office hours, it naturally sets an expectation for them to behave in the same way. One company that’s blazing the trail when it comes to defining workplace culture is Hub spot. Hub spot is constantly striving to better the employee experience and has created a mammoth 128 slide deck outlining its Culture Code. Along with an emphasis on hard work and self-improvement, Hub spot encourages employees to take time to recharge by allowing them unlimited time off plus four-week paid sabbaticals after five years of service.
One of the key findings in the CIPD’s 2021 Health and Wellbeing At Work report also showed that there has been an increase in the number organizations taking a proactive approach to absence and attendance through the introduction of employee wellbeing initiatives and support. It’s no secret that companies perform better when staff are healthy, engaged and focused. Research consistently shows that valued and supported employees are more aligned with the organisation’s long-term goals. Supportive workplaces reap the benefits through staff loyalty, productivity and commitment which ultimately drives the bottom-line.
Last month over 30 companies signed up to a four-day working week trial launched in the UK run by the 4 Day Week campaign, think-tank Autonomy and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College to measure whether staff can operate at 100% productivity 80% of the time. The benefits of a shorter working week and longer weekends have long been a topic of debate and it now appears that more and more businesses are taking the plunge.
T-CUP CEO, Ed Van Rooyen, has first-hand knowledge of how the 4 day week can drive business performance since he introduced WOW (Working On Wellbeing) Fridays 18 months ago.
He said “We need to reframe our thinking. It’s not about doing more hours in fewer days or deprioritizing your career, it’s about ensuring people don’t have to compromise between their career or home life and empowering them to unlock their potential. But… it needs management and a programme to help individuals and also organisations become more aware of what matters and drives performance.”
The pandemic has forced the issue of staff health and wellbeing even further up the corporate agenda marking a new era in the employer/employee relationship. With boundaries between work and home life becoming increasingly blurred, those organisations offering a holistic, people-centric approach are reaping the benefits in terms of employee engagement and retention.
Assessing wellbeing at an individual level is key, and tools that baseline employees’ wellbeing data like T-Cup’s CheckUp can create a snapshot of your organisation’s wellbeing through guided self-reflection in less than sixty seconds. The offering allows participants to unlock 12 activity-focused wellbeing modules to provide employers with comprehensive data to drive wellbeing initiatives whilst serving up individual resources to each employee at the same time. The future looks bright for UK businesses as more and more organisations recognise their duty of care to look after the health and wellbeing of their employees. But there will be a heavy price to pay for those that fail to rethink their employee value proposition in this rapidly evolving labour market.