Globalisation and our incredibly competitive world have profoundly changed businesses’ organisation. The quest for more productivity and performance is never ending leading to regular internal restructuring and upgrade to new technologies. Time hasn’t extended, we still have exactly the same amount of time that we had before but the load and density of the work is much greater.
The pressure for an employee rises as he is required to demonstrate strong adaptation skills, multi-tasking and delivering quality work quickly. It goes further as he may be required to be available in the evenings and over the weekend.
Globalisation has generally had a positive impact, improving working conditions and business performance and productivity but it has not been without weakening people’s health and wellbeing.
How is time ‘acceleration’ affecting staff?
Change often happens quickly in businesses without giving the employees sufficient time to prepare for that change or knowledge to adapt quickly to their new situations. We are creatures of habit and change often comes with stress; particularly in the professional context. It is a period where any employee may feel weakened, threatened, under pressure. Change can drain and demotivate staff members, particularly if there is no recognition of their contribution or improvement in their situation.
The acceleration of the pace of work and increase in workload creates tension, which can bring about psychosocial risks such as an increase in musculoskeletal disorders and high levels of stress. An employee is faced with a demand to increase effectiveness, availability and flexibility, and ends up feeling overwhelmed, out of his depth and eventually loses his self-confidence, self-esteem and motivation.
The tasks accumulate and as a way to optimise their performance, certain employees decide to stop taking proper lunch breaks, shorten their sleep, and work at the weekend. As a result, they are compromising on spending time with family and friends, exercising and rejuvenating. They are exhausting their resources and will eventually hit a wall. A car can only go so far without fueling up and it is exactly the same with the body and the mind. There comes a point of saturation where we have used up all our resources and we cannot go further without recharging our batteries. Such behaviours need to be addressed within the workplace of any business that wants to preserve its employees’ energy and capacities.
Time pressure forces us to multi-task. We think we can multi-task but it is actually impossible; we are not designed for it. Research has recently shown that the brain can only process one thing at a time so when we are jumping from one task to the other, we are actually using up a lot of the brain’s energy as it is having to refocus every time we switch back to a task. Uni-tasking should be promoted amongst the workforce. The idea is that you still get it all done (and better) without multi-tasking.
There is a real need to assess if the amount of work to get done is realistic and adapted to the capacities of an employee so he doesn’t end up in a situation where he feels pushed to the limit and his resources and abilities weaken. Time is inelastic and employees’ physical and mental resources are thinning down, leaving them on empty. Mental overload and feelings of helplessness facing the realisation of all these tasks can lead to chronic stress and potentially burnout, depression and suicide.
What can we do about time-related stress?
Some businesses are suffering the consequences of time pressure with increasing levels of absenteeism, presenteeism, staff turnover, long-term sick leave and realising the state of emergency and finally being forced to take action to improve the situation. This is where wellbeing programmes are completely legitimate and, if implemented well, can be an efficient tool to restore balance and prevent further damage.
The list of possible initiatives is endless. Some opt for advice on healthy eating, launching a stop smoking campaign or running regular exercise classes. Others prefer to promote regular breaks to rest, relax and refresh in the form of mindfulness, relaxation or Sophrology classes. These methods are extremely empowering as they provide staff members with skills they can easily re-use in the workplace but also at home. They create a space where people can slow down and rejuvenate to come back to their tasks energised and more focused. Resilience to stress, emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills, self-confidence and concentration skills are some of the benefits employees draw from these programmes. They learn to listen to themselves, and become aware of their real needs, limits and capacities.
Whatever programme you are planning to launch in your business, make sure you do not just address one aspect of health or wellbeing. The best results are the initiatives that look at employees holistically, not just the body or the mind but integrating all dimensions: physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
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