Too much to do not enough time? I’m feeling this as I write because I’m trying to get everything done before taking time off work for vacation/annual leave. I’m not the only one. A recent UK-wide study by YouGov found ¾ of ALL UK adults have felt so stressed at times in the last year that they felt overwhelmed or unable to cope¹. Another study conducted by leading UK universities found 2/3 of people working in health and social care are overwhelmed and at risk of burnout². Research in the USA found similar results across a multitude of industries and professions.
In the past week alone 12,100 google searches have been conducted in the UK for the word OVERWHELM. Add in all the variations of overwhelmed, overwhelmed at work, feeling stressed and overwhelmed, burnout and it’s 10’s of thousands pf people researching it and those are just the people who taking the time and have the headspace to google it.
One of my clients has a team working in Ukraine. Yes, they are still working there 2 months after the start of the war. The day before our coaching session my client was handling the disruption in work caused by the shelling in the area where most of his team were situated while making sure his team was safe, their families were safe, and arranging if anyone now wanted to leave while managing his stress, fears and work requirements. Gratefully I’m not dealing with life and death as many of my clients are at this time.
Importance of Wellbeing at Work
The above stats underline the requirement for organizations to focus on health and wellbeing in the workplace. Decades ago wellbeing in the workplace was about gym membership benefits, health insurance, medication plans etc. A company was deemed to be progressive if the benefits extended to onsite gyms and benefit coverage for massages. It was all about health in terms of physical health. Later wellbeing extended to employee assistance programs to address some of the mental and emotional things that people face.
Now it’s about body, mind and soul – holistic wellbeing to not just cope or avoid burnout but to enjoy, contribute, be fulfilled in the way that’s best for the individual. It’s about supporting people to be authentically themselves (diversity, equality and inclusion is an aspect of this) and to be resilient to the scale and pace of change in today’s world. It’s dealing with people as full human beings and not just their head and hands who do tasks at work.
For some in leadership positions this evolution and the current reality are obvious, and for others it’s a difficult transition. Some just want people to come into work, get the work done well and go home. There’s a discomfort around “understanding peoples’ needs and feelings,” making sure others are feeling ‘ok,’ being mindful in how work is delegated rather than just assigning tasks. This challenge can be met with better emotional intelligence (EQ). Knowing yourself and then knowing others, so you can manage the interaction to be win-win.
Wellbeing + Workload – Not a trade-off
The people are the key to getting the work done; an organization can’t succeed without productive people and for sustained productivity, people need to be healthy and well (holistically across head, heart and hands).
People + Wellbeing = Productivity
The biggest thing is to be in dialogue about this exact thing – how do we achieve our goals while looking after ourselves and others? It’s not a question of prioritizing one over the other. It’s about working in a ‘healthy’ way within a wellbeing culture. A leader’s thoughts need to be oriented around “I want you to be yourself, I can’t do it without you, your total wellbeing is key. What does that mean and how do we facilitate it?”
Tips for Working in a Wellbeing Manner
1. Be Courageous – have the courage to have the conversation about the work needs and human needs. In fact, courage is needed for each of the following tips. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s feeling the fear and proceeding despite it. This requires self-management in emotional intelligence terms – feeling it and speaking up anyway.
2. Acknowledge Emotions– Stress is present in the workplace; the issue is to what degree? Behavioural science tells us that some amount of stress is needed to perform, it creates the energy to follow through and act, it motivates. When it’s too much it becomes counterproductive. Talk about how people are feeling sometimes. The feelings are there (‘positive’ and ‘negative’) whether we talk about them or not. Having people share their emotions can alleviate the pressure or in the case of ‘positive’ emotions make the environment better.
3. Simplify – Challenge what work really needs to be done. Are we focusing on the right things to make a difference and be successful? Question old processes, practices or expectations? This takes courage especially during change – it often feels safer to continue doing what has always been done. Are there new, faster, more efficient ways of doing some of the work? Ask because you might not know, and others might. This is vulnerable and hence takes courage as there’s a fear of saying ‘I don’t know’ in an organization and being judged poorly for it. This also included reducing the reliance on the volume of emails people send, and the amount of inefficient and needless meetings – complaints from pretty much everyone!
4. Learn how to say no or ‘set boundaries’ – what do you do when you’re being asked to do too much at work or you just have too much work to do? You talk about it in a respectful, professional, transparent manner. Tell people that consequences of taking on another task or project so choices or priorities can be clear. This touches on all 4 quadrants of the EQ model – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social management.
5. Foster individual resilience – promote self-awareness, reframe failure or mistakes to learnings, adopt a growth mindset, be connected to others for support and perspective, watch when your stress moves from optimal to overload, talk to others about how you feel. As part of resilience, healthy lifestyle routines are mandatory such as: eat healthy food, create good sleep habits, exercise regularly, avoid or limit alcohol, sugar, and excessive screen time, undertake regular health checks, practice some sort of mindfulness and relaxation, be in nature, have friends/family around you and enjoy some fun.
6. Ensure the practical wellbeing fundamentals are in place – ensure fair pay and benefit structures; environmental aspects such as accessible, good food onsite, physical spaces are ergonomic, legal/reasonable working hours are enforced, fitness in supported, employee assistance programs are robust and known, career development is cultivated, employees have a voice through some forum.
7. Be a values and purpose led leader (if not organizations) – be open and engaged in two-way conversation, behave in accordance with the company values and mission, encourage and role model a good personal/professional balance, create autonomy for people to do what they do, belonging and connection. Humans are social creatures and since we spend most of our waking hours at work this connection needs to be authentic and positive.
What one thing in this list could deliver the biggest improvement in your wellbeing?
What’s the leadership challenge you’re facing?
What support could you have to help your own productivity and resilience?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how to you can optimize your wellbeing and workload and/or that of your people.