WHILE a bit of pressure is part and parcel of work life, and can even be a good motivator for achieving goals, living with the constant strain of an excessive workload, unrealistic deadlines and high expectations can be extremely detrimental to your mental and physical wellbeing.
More than 12.5million UK working days are lost each year to work-related stress, depression or anxiety, so it’s a real problem — and important that everybody, employees and employer alike, acknowledges it and takes necessary steps to help manage it.
Knowing where to start, however, can be difficult, especially when you’re already overwhelmed, but small changes can make a big difference. Here, Liz Walker, HR director at Unum, outlines eight simple steps to help your work-related wellbeing year-round.
1. Be ‘smart’
‘If you’re feeling a little down at work, set yourself some goals to boost motivation. They need to be realistic to achieve,’ says Walker. She suggests using the ‘SMART’ acronym, which stands for: Specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-specific. So rather than just vaguely vowing to be better at managing your time, set out a named task, that’s not impossible to complete, with a realistic deadline. Perhaps there’s a project you’d love to see completed by the end of the week? Or your goal might be something as simple as finally decluttering your workspace. ‘It’s much more motivating if you start with things you can achieve easily, so you can build up your wins and momentum from there,’ says Walker.
2. Take time out
Saving all your holiday up for a long getaway might be a nice thought, but it’s probably not benefiting you in the long-run. Walker suggests that by giving yourself more three-day weekends throughout the year, particularly after a more stressful period at work — you are less at risk of wearing yourself too thin.
Taking time away from your desk is an important step towards staying present and engaged with those around you, whether that’s picking up the kids from school or completing a DIY project you’ve been putting off for months. By using your annual leave to make the occasional day off a more frequent part of your working routine, you’ll benefit from a fresh perspective and feel better-equipped to handle the pressure.
3. Maximise your work perks
‘Lots of people use the earlier months as a chance to do a little ‘spring cleaning’, which should also include reviewing your current work offerings,’ Walker says.
By fully assessing what benefits are on offer from your employer, you can ensure you’re getting the most out of your job. You don’t have to be sat at your desk to increase job satisfaction; make use of discount vouchers for weekend trips and evening meals, take some classes at the work gym or sign yourself up for a training course to learn a new skill.
4. Let there be light
There’s a lot to be said for the power of light and the positive impact it can have on our working day. ‘Natural light helps stabilise serotonin and triggers endorphins, both mood-boosting hormones, leaving you calmer and happier,’ says Walker. Resist the temptation to snack at your desk by using your lunch break to get out of the office, even if it’s just for a short walk around the block, to refresh and relax. And while it may be tempting to bury your head under the covers by the weekend, try to also utilise your free time to enjoy the outdoors.
5. Ask about employee recognition schemes
‘Ask your employer if they might consider introducing an employee recognition scheme to highlight great work done by your teams,’ suggests Walker. ‘Whether the recognition is made publicly or privately, it will boost morale and create a more positive work environment’. Walker points out that it can also do wonders for boosting relationships between colleagues, and help create a much happier workplace culture. Feeling valued can be extremely rewarding, and even help alleviate a certain amount of stress.
6. Know your limits
One of the leading causes of work-related stress is an excessive workload. ‘If you feel overwhelmed at a particularly busy or stressful time at work or in your personal life, talking to your line manager or HR about how you are feeling will give them a better understanding of your capacity,’ says Walker. It’s natural to feel worried about falling short of your manager’s expectations, but you may actually gain more respect for speaking up.
7. Talk about it
While opening up a discussion on mental health isn’t always easy, speaking to a trusted colleague may put you at ease. Work-related stress, depression or anxiety accounts for 40 per cent of work-related ill health, according to HSE, so it’s likely that another close colleague has been feeling the same way. If you’re nervous about initiating a conversation with your boss, try sending an email voicing your feelings and ask them to get back to you after reading it.
‘You may have access to an Employee Assistance Programme at work that provides one-on-one emotional support,’ adds Walker, who firmly believes that suffering in silence is never the solution to alleviating work-related stress.
8. Take control of your finances
Walker highlights that financial health is vital to feeling happy and healthy at work. Budgeting doesn’t have to be boring either; monitor your finances using mobile budgeting apps or take advantage of the number of financial assistance schemes that may be on offer to you in your workplace.
‘Make the most of real-time assistance on offer from your employer like subsidised memberships, annual leave buy-back schemes and childcare vouchers, to help build your long-term financial security,’ says Walker. By relieving stress from all areas of our lives, we can ensure our attitude towards the workplace remains positive.