It’s National work-life week from 12th-16th October and we wanted to share why it’s important to have a healthy work life balance. We’ve also shared a few hints and tips for employers and employees.
Why is it important?
When individuals have a poor work-life balance, it can lead to their health suffering and can ultimately affect their wellbeing. Research suggests that individuals who are overworked are at a 60% higher risk of heart-related problems than those with a healthier work-life balance (Virtanen, 2010). Whilst mental health is also affected by a lack of a healthy work life balance with 27% of individuals feeling depressed if they are working long hours and 40% neglecting other aspects of their life (Mental Health Foundation).
Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is not only important for health and relationships but it has also been found to improve employee’s performance and productivity. By individuals being able to leave work at work they can become more engaged and go the extra mile during their work hours (Perrin, 2006).
Studies into what a good work-life balance looks like
Byrne (2005) – This study suggests that the work-life balance is beginning to change with the generation of workers, with millennials wanting more control over when, where and how they work. They suggest that the work-life balance is achieved when the individual’s life inside and outside work is accepted, respected and is benefiting that individual. Within the workplace work-life balance might include flexi-hours, compressed working hours, self-rostering, working from home and flexible benefits. These types of work differences allow individuals to spend more time with their friends and families whilst be productive in their job role.
Spring (2002) – This study found that although work-life balance can mean different things for different employers and employees there are some basic wants for a good work-life balance. Employees tended to indicate a better work-life balance with incentives of flexi-time, a higher entitlement to holidays and less travelling to meet clients. It was indicated that these benefits allowed employees to spend more time at home with their families, allowing them to be more productive in their work environments.
What businesses can do to create a good work-life balance
Breaks – Encouraging small breaks throughout the day can help individual’s health and mental wellbeing. To help encourage this, workplaces could consider installing a ‘break out space’ such as a games room or a room with sofas to help individuals socialise and take their minds off work. All of these techniques have found to positively impact on your team’s performance, productivity and workplace happiness.
Healthy food options – ‘Fruit Fridays’ has been an initiative used to help the healthy work-life balance. Businesses work with local fruit grocers to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for employees encouraging them to eat healthily and have healthy snacks whilst at work. The benefits of eating fruit can also work against those of over working with helping to lower the risk of heart disease and strokes. Whilst also promoting mental wellness and improving moral and motivation.
Break out space – With individuals becoming more glued to their screens the use of a breakout space has found to be really important in order to encourage a better work-life balance, encourage employee retention and attracting individuals to the workforce. An efficient break-out area allows individuals to take their minds off the job promoting productivity, creativity and has found to improve wellness and reduce stress levels.
Employee Assistance Programme- Invest in an EAP to help support your employees. Make sure the provider is registered via the EAP Association.
Mental Health First Aid – Having a trained mental health first aider is another way to keep a balanced work life. Mental health first aiders are trained to understand the benefits of a healthy work-life balance and it encourages employees to gain support on how to effectively achieve this balance.
Ask workers what they need – A work-life balance can look different to every employee and therefore it’s important to listen to your employees and how to achieve this. 41% of employees do not feel listened to regarding work-life balance, therefore encourage your employees to take part in a survey and give them balance-related options allowing the company to implement achievable work-life solutions.
Boundaries people can set to preserve their own mental health at work
Leave work on time – Are you often the last to leave work? Long hours mean you may be working harder but not necessarily working better, these long hours can take a toll on your productiveness, concentration and health. Try to leave work on time to help separate your time at work and time at home.
Ask for help – If you feel as though you are struggling to manage your work load, take the opportunity to discuss this with your manager or supervisor. It’s important to ask for help if you are struggling to maintain a healthy work-life balance.
Take your breaks- we know that breaks are essential for us to be productive. People often work through their breaks because they want to achieve more. However, when people don’t take timely breaks they are less productive.
Take time off – A break from work provides a chance to switch off and enjoy yourself, use this opportunity to recuperate and recharge. This is essential to improve your productivity and remain focussed whilst at work.
If you are working from home. Take a look at our working from home tips.
Self-care is described as an activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional and physical health (Raphailia, 2018). Examples can range from not checking your emails at night when you know it affects your sleep (guilty!) and extends to more important decisions like going for a holiday (yes please) or booking a massage if you need one (always).
Self-care is hugely important as it helps us maintain a healthy relationship with ourselves that can be transmitted to others; you cannot give to others what you don’t have yourself (Tartakovsky, 2019). Biali Haas (2016) emphasises this stating you cannot pour from an empty cup, if you’re running on empty, then break that habit before it breaks you. This emphasises the importance that self-care can have on individuals lives and why looking after yourself also impacts those around you. Plus, we know that supporting and giving to others is important for our own health.
Self-care has found to have multiple benefits; improved immunity, increased positive thinking, less susceptible to stress, depression anxiety and other emotional health issues (Living Self Care). It has been further found that individuals who fail to take care of themselves are more prone to unhappiness, low self-esteem and feelings of resentment (Living Self Care). These benefits have increased the use of self-care within millennials as they spend twice as much on self-care essentials than baby boomers which has found to create millennials as more upbeat and positive (Pew research, 2008).
Rest and Reflection – Sleep can have a huge influence on both your emotional and physical health. Sleep can be made part of a self-care routine by ensuring that you are sleeping for 6-8 hours a day, as well as listening to your body and taking naps when it is felt necessary. Whilst research also suggests that giving yourself time to reflect and ask yourself questions such as ‘what makes me feel happy?’ can create self-clarity an important aspect of self-care.
Eating Well – Eating a healthy, balanced diet is one of the core elements of self-care. Research has found that daily food choices can affect overall health and wellbeing both in the long term and the short term (Stranges et al, 2014). By eating healthily as part of your self-care routine you may experience benefits such as better mood, better ability to cope with stress and overall better wellbeing (O’Neil et al, 2018)
Meditation – Meditation is another form of self-care which can be introduced as part of a self-care routine with benefits including reduced stress, reduced feelings of depression and anxiety, promotion of self-discovery and an increased self-awareness (Schreiner and Malcom, 2008). These important benefits can be experienced by taking 5 minutes as part of your self-care routine promoting your wellbeing in a short period of time (May et al, 2019).
Self-awareness – Self-awareness and self-care have often been linked as when an individual is taking time to listen to their mind and body, they tend to practice some form of self-care (Brenda and Vachon, 2011). Research has found that by taking this time to practice self-awareness as a form of self-care it can increase productivity, reduce stressful experiences and decrease the likelihood of burnout (Brenda and Vachon, 2011).
Exercise – Adding daily exercise to your routine has also found to boost your mood and reduce stress and anxiety (ADAA, 2010). Although going to the gym everyday may be difficult to achieve, short activities such as walking on your lunch break or practicing yoga may better fit into a busy schedule with research suggesting that only five minutes of these activities can still increase your wellbeing. (ADAA, 2010).
Hygge – Hygge is a danish word for wellbeing, it describes a feeling or mood that is created from making every day experiences more meaningful. Miek Wiking, CEO of the happiness research institute and author of the little book of hygge, describes hygge as “the pursuit of everyday happiness and it’s basically like a hug without the physical touch”. Hygge involves focusing on the small things that really matter like quality time with friends and family as well as learning to appreciate simple day to day pleasures. Hygge is also encouraged within the workplace by creating a relaxing environment, Wiking suggests including things like plants, leaving chocolate for a co-worker or potlucks to increase socialisation and connection.
Giving is the act of freely parting with something and offering it to someone or something else who needs it, this could be a stranger, friend, family member, charity or the local and wider community. This can involve material giving such as money or gifts, or immaterial things like using our time, skills, knowledge and kindness to help others (Mind, 2016).
Research has found that by giving to others through acts of voluntary work has significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms and lower psychological distress (Yeung, Zhang and Kim, 2018).
Volunteering in the community has found to give people a sense of purpose and belonging and therefore increasing their life satisfaction and improving their mental health. The research found that these benefits were most significant for people who were older or who had lost their life-defining role such as being a ‘worker’ or ‘parent’ (Bradley, 1999).
‘It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“For it is in giving that we receive” – St. Francis of Assisi
A study found that MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviours activates the same brain system as when we receive a reward (Moll et al, 2006) suggesting that prosocial and helping behaviours may give humans a positive physical sensation which has been termed a ‘helpers high’ (Luks, 1988). Further research has found that altruism can significantly emotional wellbeing and reduce stress in the long term (Luks and Payne, 2001).
A 2012 YouGov poll found that 80% of participants agreed that being kind has had a positive influence in their own health, whilst 87% said that they felt good after they had done something for someone else.
Research has stated that human beings have a natural potential for altruism when they are functioning at a healthy capacity which promotes integrated states of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being (Cloninger and Zohar, 2010).
Fredrickson (2011) found that the act of giving to others is contagious, it suggested that when an individual gives they experience good feelings as well as making the person who is given to more likely to act kindly and give to others which as a result promotes happiness and wellbeing.
Acts of giving can take up various forms, the NHS has suggested some ways to give in day to day life;
Say thank you to someone for something they’ve done for you
Phone a relative or friend who needs support or company
Ask someone how they are and really listen to the answer
Offer to lend a hand to a stranger if you see them struggling
Resilience, our ability to ‘bounce back’ from adversity. This topic is at the forefront at the moment given the times. People are feeling the unsurmountable pressure to carry on with their ‘normal’ lives in very ‘unnatural’ ways. So, we thought we would pop a few ideas together to support the growth of resilience. But lets also remember, it’s understandable to be experiencing low mood, low motivation and general life fatigue at the moment.
Did you have lots of ‘tools’ in your resilience toolbox prior to lockdown? This is the experience of many people, similarly, people had just started to improve their health and wellbeing with extra activities, exercise classes and increasing social connections and now it has all stopped. Whilst many of the online alternatives don’t feel the same, there are things we can do in and out of lockdown to enhance our wellbeing. We will be sharing resources and exercises throughout the rest of the month to support you.
Mindfulness is the practice of bringing our awareness to what we are experiencing in the present, both internally and externally, without judgment (Kornfield, 2009).
It has been linked to resilience as being mindful aims to broaden and build inner resources strengthening ‘bounce back ability’ (Fredrickson, 2001).
Research has suggested that working on becoming more mindful breeds resilience, Bajaj and Pande (2016) conducted a study which found that people with higher levels of mindfulness had greater resilience and therefore increased their life satisfaction. This research supported the use of mindfulness training as a way to build resilience and enhance personality characteristics such as optimism and patience. Something we may all need a bit more of at the moment!
There has been a move towards mindfulness-based resilience training in workplaces as it has been found that using mindfulness at work can increase psychological flexibility within a workplace setting (Joyce et al, 2018). Research suggests that training such as this, which cultivates resilience through mindfulness exercises, may assist in preventing psychological distress and burnout in the workplace (Harker, 2016)
Self-compassion is the ability to treat yourself with the same care and kindness as you would a good friend. (Lilley, 2019). Self-compassion is especially important within the workplace, a place where performance and targets are at the forefront. ‘Being kinder to yourself’ has been linked to developing emotional resilience, with research showing that people who score high on self-compassion; cope better with adversities, take more personal initiative and responsibility, are less fearful of making mistakes, a more emotionally intelligent as well as take better care of themselves physically and emotionally. (Buth, Mullarkey and Lathren, 2018).
Mindset Change / Cognitive Restructuring
A mindset is defined as a core belief system that filters our perceptions of what is true and acts as an inner compass to shape our choices of response to those perceptions (Dweck, 2006). The type of mindset that is adopted by an individual can affect how individuals react to challenges and their resilience in life. Dweck (2006) states that moving from a fixed mindset to a growth mind set allows individuals to view challenges as a learning opportunity, a growth opportunity and unsurprisingly leads to individuals feeling more resilient.
“Changing your mindset is not the only way to cultivate resilience and well-being. But it comes as close to guaranteed as anything I’ve ever come across”.
Research has suggested that a growth mindset can be promoted / developed to create more resilience. Encouraging a growth mindset in students leads them to being more likely to achieve their goals whilst also increasing their resilience to challenges (Yeager and Dweck, 2012).
Cognitive restructuring was developed by Ellis in the mid-50s and is a way to challenge unhappy and disturbing automatic beliefs to reframe them in a more positive light. Cognitive restructuring is often used as part of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, as it works to build resilience by creating a change in the way individuals view negative situations. Other therapies such as wellbeing therapy have used cognitive restructuring in the aim to increase resilience. (Fava and Tomba, 2009).
Resilience Enhancing Imagery is a cognitive-imaginal technique which aims to help tackle situations that lower resilience and increase stress (Palmer, 2013). This technique involves picturing resilient outcomes to challenges, encouraging them to associate the resilient coping methods with their current problems. This technique increases the resilience of individuals who are overwhelmed by a series of events.
Guided Imagery is another form of relaxation technique that involves bringing your body into a more relaxed state to build resilience over time (Smith, 1990). Guided imagery involves using positive thoughts and images to replace thoughts of anxiety and anger in difficult situations, this is a way to stimulate the brain and create a calm and peaceful physical state. Guided imagery has found to be effective in increasing resilience as well as improving how individuals deal with stress (Jenkins, 2012).
Flexible thinking is the ability to see things from different perspectives and find alternative approaches to the challenges that people face. Flexible thinking has been linked to resilience as it has been seen as an important aspect in individuals becoming ‘unstuck’ and effectively dealing with challenges, especially within the workplace (WRAW, 2019).
Metzl (2009) found that flexible and creative thinking was a significant predictor in life satisfaction, higher levels of resilience and higher levels of wellbeing. The study suggested that flexible thinking plays a crucial role of increasing resilience after stressful life events. Further research has suggested that by adopting more flexible thinking within the workplace, it can increase your resilience and can begin to shape work outcomes (McEwen, 2011).
Being clear on your values
Individuals use their personal values as a way to look at situations and form thoughts of what that means for the individual. Le Fevre (2017) found that by understanding your most important values it can buffer psychological stress, stating that being aware of your values stops the brain producing overwhelming amounts of cortisol therefore allowing you to think clearly. McEwan (2011) suggests that by embracing our values we are able to think clearly which is an important part of resilience as it gives us the capacity to manage situations.
Creswell et al (2005) conducted a study which found that individuals who were clear about their values made better decisions. They also had reduced being a stress levels.
Acceptance and commitment therapy use values as tools to help individuals live their lives in accordance to the values which are most important to them. This focus on values has found that acceptance and commitment therapy can contribute to building greater resilience, improve optimism and lower depression scores.
We will be sharing our resources surrounding these evidenced based approaches throughout July and we hope they can support you and workplaces’ wellbeing during this time.
We are social beings. We rely upon our emotional connection with others in order to survive. Emotions are seemingly contagious for that very reason, to enable us to transfer any feelings of imminent threat to our companions so we can ‘get the hell out of there’ or ‘get ready for a fight’.
As humans, we are more than just emotional transferers, we are story tellers, we are listeners. We are responsible, not only for our own happiness, but the happiness of others. Again, the happiness of others lead to social bonds which enables survival. We need social bonds throughout our lifespan, to thrive and without these social bonds, we can feel negative and painful emotions. Similarly, we are understandably distressed when we experience conflict with others or where bonds are broken. Loneliness, or a temporarily loss of connection can be a precipitating factor for depression or anxiety, not to mention perpetuating any mental ill health a person may already be experiencing.
Even with our innate drive to connect, we appear to be losing some of the key skills that we need to enhance this connection. We are growingly becoming emotional disconnected. Disconnected, due to not being present, by being distracted, by not actively listening or by not showing empathy and compassion. The use of technology perpetuates this, where we may be remotely connected but that primitive emotional bond is not shared. We are often, simply cognitively connecting.
“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives”
The Action for Happiness movement identifies that relationships are one of the key factors for happiness. They describe connections are important for belonging, growth and meaning. We also know social integration has many other physical health benefits. We are more likely to have reduced stress levels and stronger immune systems if we have good social bonds.
How do we strengthen our bonds?
Put down your phone, look away from your computer, reduce distractions and be present. Listening effectively means showing genuine interest in what that person has to say and giving someone your full attention.
Tips for good listening
Find a place to talk away from distractions
Use good eye contact
Summarise what the person says, this emphasises how well you have listened.
Show empathy (if appropriate)
Be aware of your body, be open, don’t fold your arms, sit slightly to the side or walk side by side.
Ask open questions
Be aware of your judgements and don’t verbalise them.
Give positive feedback
Not only is it important to support our friends and family during times of hardship, it is equally important to be enthusiastic when they achieve or experience good news.
Be interpersonally effectively
We all experience challenges and conflicts in our relationships, we need to raise them to move forward and grow. The ability to communicate effectively and manage conflict is a skill. A great tool which people always find helpful comes from the world of Dialectal Behaviour Therapy. DEARMAN provides a great framework where you can raise issues, whilst maintaining self-respect.
Share how much you appreciate people. Thank them for the positive contributions they make to your life. A text, a letter or a simple gift to express your gratitude can be so powerful and it may encourage others to do the same. Even better, do it face to face!!
“I just wanted to take the time to say…I appreciate you, thank you for everything you do, its means so much”
Take a look at action for happiness’ challenge to get people to show appreciation for others
Every year, I start out in January with the intention of being fitter, stronger and more flexible than the previous. And, secretly hoping that I will slide into the jeans I have kept on my ‘just in case of a severe virus’ pile.
How do I get on? Probably like the other 80% of people starting out their New Year with unachievable goals…not the best! To improve on this, I thought I would do a bit of research about how we can start building better habits in 2020. It feels like a good year to start. A new decade for greatness.
Habits are very difficult to form, especially if we start out with a goal that is beyond our reach. If we were to aim to start January hoping to lose 15lb in 3 days or run a marathon by day 7 (when we are a complete novice), we would be pretty disappointed. Why? Because, as humans we tend to enjoy instant gratification, so whilst the long-term gain is great, we need to consider the smaller benefits in the interim to reduce the likelihood of giving up.
We can do this by considering exercise and its instant and long-term benefits. Research is not limited in highlighting the importance of exercise for our overall health and wellbeing and what I have been most interested in of late is the profound impact exercising can have on our mental and emotional fitness. Particularly, our happiness and general positivity. This can be seen instantly, therefore, if we are mindful of these small change’s we are more likely to continue with our goal.
Benefits of exercise
Short term benefits (post exercise)
Long term benefits
Boosts mood (lots of happy hormones!)
Increases confidence & productivity
Increased muscle tone
Reduces likelihood of heart disease & type 2 diabetes.
Increases chance of living longer
Like every year (check out my last years blog), I am going to kick start January, joining the RED community-making sure I get active each day through a variety of activities. But this time, I’m going to make clear goals and monitor my progress so that I see those small changes. Plus, making sure they are achievable goals. Hoping that I can continue this way beyond the January challenge. I want exercising every day to be a habit. I’m not going to focus on an end result, I am going to take it one day at a time, sitting back and considering any benefits I have felt post workout that day. Considering the benefits already highlighted above, I am doing this by monitoring my sleep, mood and self-confidence (via some apps and psychometric assessments)
Research suggests that habits, on average are formed after 66 days (Lally et al, 2009), but what I am really interested in is if a person completes RED January, getting active each day, if they can go on and turn an active January into an active year.
Join me in my quest to complete RED January but also in making resolutions reality.
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