Wellbeing at Work: Taking care of your health at work

Posted on: May 14, 2018 by Andrew Kinder

A recent study by the NHS found that one in three ‘sick notes’ are for mental health, making it the most common reason for people to take time off work, costing businesses £10.6 billion in sickness absence and £21.2 billion in reduced productivity.

So, as Atos begins its Wellbeing@Work week with a focus on “care”, I wanted to bring you some tips on tackling the biggest issues in the workplace.

You cannot change everything about your work. You can, however, work on re-framing some of the issues we all face; learn how to manage crisis points and improve personal resilience.

Work load (under and over)

Work gives us meaning, structure and a sense of achievement. Even a heavy workload can feel light if you’re enjoying it and a light workload can feel like hard work when you feel disengaged and time moves slowly.

So, workload is not just about hours but also about enjoyment and a sense of it being meaningful with purpose.

Advice: Break your day up so you have a mix of tasks – easy and hard, enjoyable and less enjoyable. Start tasks which are more difficult first as you need maximum energy to tackle them. Think about the purpose of your job and how your inputs help customers to achieve their goals.

Lack of control

Control gives options and choices, it gives a sense that ‘all is well in the world’. Within our working lives, if we focus on what we cannot control, this can lead to frustration, anxiety and can knock our confidence.

There is an art to being able to stand back and look at control in a different way. What can we influence and change and how do we challenge the way we feel about the things we cannot control?

This is based on the notion that ‘we are not disturbed by events, but our perception of these events’. It’s not necessarily negative to have to learn to manage change and other people’s demands.

Advice: Look at what you lack control over and ask yourself whether you can overcome it by adopting a problem-solving strategy – however, if you don’t have control over them, put in place an emotional / behavioural focused strategy such as focusing on what you can influence and change. This can be linked to your day rather than directly to work. For example, taking time out to exercise, learning to relax and using simple meditations.

Distraction can also be a great way of relieving stress as it gives you a break to focus on something that you like. What are your interests? You can exert more control within your day and manage your stress even if it feels like this is impossible.

Targets and deadlines

Many people react to these words negatively, they may get a sinking feeling of doom that they are going to fail or think that they have been set these as a punishment. This may be a hangover from our time at school or it could come from a sense that we don’t have the confidence or energy to tackle the deadline / target.

Unrealistic targets and deadlines can create a sense of stress, especially if you have not had an opportunity to input in the setting of them. In more extreme cases it can lead to anxiety and even feeling hopeless. There can be a self-fulfilling prophecy here in that you feel that the objective is impossible, this leads to lower energy and procrastination which in turn leads to the deadline not being met.

Advice: Targets and deadlines are not there to persecute you or to tell you that ‘you are a failure’. They can be motivational when tackled in the right way.

Approach the deadline or target with a positive ‘can do’ attitude, breaking what feels unachievable into bite-sized chunks, the objective feels more achievable and you’re more likely to be able to deliver.

If you have unrealistic targets or deadlines set by others, it can be helpful to highlight as early as possible what the situation is and then communicate what can be achieved; you might try to negotiate an extension, or further support, maybe a reduction in a different area of work to balance things out.

Working hours

Is there a ‘right’ number of hours to work each day? Does the traditional 8 hours per day including lunch work the best? How many hours do successful business people work? The answer is that everyone is different, it is also better to view work as not measured by the number of hours spent but rather the outputs or successes achieved.

When coaching people who are suffering from ‘burnout’ from their jobs, asking them how many hours they work can reveal a tendency to feel as though they are victims and have to work excessive hours which results in them feeling overwhelmed and inadequate. Sleep is often disturbed and they can end up not being able to concentrate and needing extra hours to achieve their objectives. Rest and recuperation are important for all of us in our working lives and ‘running on empty’ can lead to mental health problems.

Advice: Do some work to understand the hours you are working and if you have the balance right. Undertake the following:

    • Keep a log of the actual hours you work each week
    • Ask yourself if you are allowing sufficient time for non-work activities including family/friends?
    • Are you taking all holidays due to you?
    • Do you find it difficult to switch off from work?
    • Are those close to you saying that you are working too hard?
    • Are there wasted hours where you are unproductive?

Pulling together the answers to these questions can help you understand if you are achieving the balance in life that you need. This is the first step to making a change if you need to.

Andrew Kinder is co-author of The Crisis Book 2017, which expands on many of the points covered in this article.

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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.