Although wellbeing at work is by now a well-established theme, many companies still find it hard to be clear on how to approach it or even if it is really such a “serious” theme. In the UK, many initiatives, programmes and official guidance are available but other countries seem to be even more at the forefront of things. Belgium has had an official Wellbeing at Work Legal Code since 1993 and France took its first official step on the subject with the Légeron report in 2008 ordered by the Secretary of Work after a wave of suicides at France Telecom. Serious, did you say serious?
Maybe it would help to consider for one moment well-being at work from the angle of performance at work.
We live in a world where working long hours with enthusiasm is particularly celebrated but studies show that working more than 40 hours a week actually decreases productivity and if you keep doing it for more than three or four weeks, your productivity then turns negative! Not to mention extreme exhaustion and potential burnout. Of course, the length of time you have been overworking is key, overdoing it for a few weeks will not have the same effect as doing it for years. Some of us are also more resistant but we do all have limits and it is better to know where they are rather than crash unexpectedly into them. No need to say, someone who has not been sleeping properly for weeks is in no state to produce any good work and could even put themselves or others at risk depending on the kind of job they have to perform. I would hate to have my accountant be so tired that she could not even put two and two together but think about the potentially dire consequences of having an airline pilot in this position.
So well-being at work is not just a fluffy concept or something you just need to be ticking boxes for. Having employees who feel good at work means they will work better, improve delivery, client service and general performance and results of the company. We are not robots and we cannot perform at 100% when neither our bodies nor our minds are ready for it. And well, even robots need some maintenance!
Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz in their research called The Making of the Corporate Athlete (Harvard Business Review-2001) show that to bring mind, body and spirit to peak condition, executives need to learn what world-class athletes already know: recovering energy is as important as expending it. Athletes do not train 10 hours a day, they learn to rest and manage their bodies so that on the day of the competition, they are at their best.
Martin Bjergegaard & Jordan Milne in their book ‘Winning Without Losing’ present a variety of successful entrepreneurs and top executives who all have in common the way they approach work, ie like a marathon, not a sprint. Like athletes, they do not train day and night, they find the optimum amount they need to produce the best work possible. They point out the example of Seth Godin, US entrepreneur, who in his early days started by staying at the office for a month straight, working constantly, day and night, to meet a deadline. He was sick for the next 6 months, unable to work… In their words, “For most of us, the “happiness optimum” lies somewhere between 30 and 60 hours of work per week. […] The great tragedy is when we push ourselves past our happiness optimum in an effort to achieve success. In the process, ironically and despite our best intentions, we also pass our efficiency optimum and thus lose twice.”
There is some urgency in implementing into companies strategies to learn how to manage our energy so that we are at our best when we need it most, know how to “switch off” and “on” at will, remain in control, beat up fatigue, retain focus and a clear head. Strategies such as: taking short breaks several times a day, slowing down, focusing on one thing at a time are a good start. And training staff into the skills of managing their energy properly is definitely in the company’s best interests.
Florence Parot is the chosen blogger for our Workplace Wellbeing and Stress Summit 2015.
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