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Well-being & workplace productivity; it’s all about the balance

February 10, 2020

In recent years, the sphere of personal development and workplace performance has become closely intertwined with that of mental health. Many experts and influential personalities have acknowledged the mantra of persistence and hard work as something that can lead to a detriment of ones’ well-being, despite being an essential element of defined success in a given area.  It is slowly becoming more accepted that for performance to be optimal, your mental well-being needs to be positive, and with that comes separation from work. This leaves many individuals and employers unsure of what this balance should look like.  

This gives us the next logical question to try and answer; what’s the key to finding this balance as an organisation or a person? 

The answer: A working environment that allows you to be fluid in your approach to work, using an awareness of oneself and create the optimal balance of work and rest.  

I can already sense employers paying less attention, dismissing the concept that by allowing time away from work, productivity can increase. However, this is no longer speculative. Following an eight-week trial of 240 staff from New Zealand, having one fully paid day off (working a 30-hour week and being paid 37.5 hours) not only led to decreased stress levels, but a measurable increase in work-life balance and no decrease in working performance. This was again repeated at a Microsoft Subsidiary in Japan, where they closed every Friday in August 2018 and found that labour productivity increased by 39.9%. 

To bring this back to mental health and wellbeing, 15.4 million working days were lost in 2017/18 as a result of work-related stress anxiety or depression; up from 12.5 million the year before. This accounted for over half of all working days lost due to ill health in Great Britain, according to figures released by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). It is commonly known that four of the most significant influencers to preventing a deterioration in mental wellbeing are regular exercise, a healthy diet, having a good quality and duration of sleep as well as regular social interaction. 

A study undertaken by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare in 2016 identified 55% of participants found a lack of time to cook/prepare foods was a significant barrier to a healthier diet, and 57% identified a lack of time was a significant barrier to exercising more. In terms of sleep, the studies are endless. A significant cause of poor sleep is the structure of the typical working day, with quality of sleep directly being affected by the workplace stress that comes from long hours. This not only reduces workplace productivity and performance; it directly increases the risk of anxiety and depression related symptoms.  

The studies are there to indicate that a reduction in working hours will lead to a harmonious improvement in productivity and positive lifestyle choices. We are slowly seeing flexible working and health benefit schemes be introduced to workplaces, but this will never be optimal with a one size fits all model. Drastic change needs to be made to allow personal exploration, letting the individual find their balance to make them happy, healthy and productive day to day. There is no denying that this comes with a significant amount of personal accountability for each worker, but with the right management structures and performance indicators in place, it is evident that improved workplace performance and happier, healthier workers can come hand in hand.

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