Investing in rest for a healthy and productive workforce

Posted on: October 11, 2017 by Andrew Kinder

Improving employee productivity is a key challenge for businesses with many dedicating significant time and resources to fixing the problem. Over the last few years, creating the ideal office has been a major focus for addressing this issue. Creating headline-grabbing offices has been particularly popular with the major tech players, from Youtube’s office with a putting green, to Microsoft’s Vienna office with a slide. But for many, this is just a gimmick and will have little impact on everyday working life.

To improve productivity, employers must focus on instigating more meaningful and long-lasting change. Having a healthy mental and physical wellbeing is often considered to be the secret ingredient for a productive workforce. But for many, this is an area where employers can fall short. For example, in the UK, two-thirds of workers say tiredness negatively impacts their productivity. Here we explore the different ways businesses can help their teams feel energised, happy and fully rested.

What is rest?

But what does feeling rested, or indeed the concept of rest, really mean? Is the solution office beds, where workers can grab a quick nap between meetings? Not necessarily – the world’s largest ever restsurvey, The Rest Test, found that real rest is having time for peaceful activities, or even just spending time alone. Respondents who chose the latter commented that “when they were on their own mostly they were focused on how they were feeling, so on their body or their emotions.” This suggests that what people want is time to reflect on themselves, free from the distractions of day-to-day life.

In the survey, other highly rated responses were being alone, reading, spending time with nature, listening to music and doing nothing in particular – no surprises there. What’s interesting about the study is the next ten most popular restful activities. Respondents selected walking, spending time with animals, drinking tea or coffee, doing creative arts and gardening. Sixteen per cent of respondents also felt that exercising was restful – by tiring the body, they relax the mind. What’s clear from this is that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to rest. What some might consider taxing, such as spending an hour on the treadmill or attending a life drawing class, might be the ideal way for others to unwind.

Separating work from life

Finding time for rest has become harder as society progresses. Business mobility and digital transformation has provided people with the tools to work where they want and when they want, but this demarcation of boundaries has its problems. Many feel the need to be ‘always on’ and fit in extra flurries of work outside the office, which leaves little time for rest and relaxation. The effects of this are being felt by businesses, with 69 percent acknowledging that fatigue has a major impact on employee performance.

To counter this, different initiatives are being deployed to separate work from life to ensure people have enough time and space to disconnect and rest their mind. In France, workers have a legal right to avoid work emails outside of set hours. It’s not just legislation driven either – a McKinsey piece on sleep includes references to a car business in Europe which has programmed non-management level employee’s smartphones to switch off work emails between 7am and 6pm. While in the US, the report also references a software company who gives employees a $7,500 bonus if they follow two rules: take a vacation and fully disconnect during your time away.

Practical applications of rest

Providing chunky bonuses for rest might work well for major enterprises but there are more accessible routes to promoting rest that can be adopted by companies of all sizes and budgets. We’ve already discussed the varied nature of what people find as restful, so it might not be practical to create a quiet zone, or an office library, or setting up more green spaces in and around the office (though all might help). Instead, employers need to look at how they encourage employees to rest.

Nine percent of respondents to The Rest Test associated rest with words such as ‘guilty’ or ‘stress-inducing’, suggesting that taking rest might be lazy or detrimental to their career. Techniques and case studies mentioned by McKinsey might not be practical for everyone, but they do project a clear message – ‘we want you to disconnect and not think about work all the time’. That’s something that all organisations can aspire to.

Resting for results

Being rested reduces stress, helps employees focus and ultimately drives results. Organisations know that their workforces are getting tired – but recognising the need for rest and actively helping employees to take a break are two different things. As digitalisation alters every aspect of our lives, businesses that succeed will be the ones that proactively help shape their employees’ wellbeing.

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About Andrew Kinder
Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health
As Professional Head of Mental Health Services at Optima Health, Andrew Kinder takes a lead on delivering its Wellbeing@work programme, which works globally to improve the health and wellbeing of its employees. Andrew has made a unique contribution in the area of counselling in the workplace over the last 15 years. He has been a leader in this specialist field work over this period, serving on the Executive Committee of the BACP Workplace (formerly Association for Counselling at Work). He has also promoted workplace counselling through committee work at the British Psychological Society’s Division of Counselling, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the Commercial Occupational Health Providers Association. He was recently awarded a Fellowship by BACP.