Our fast-paced, rapidly changing world has brought with it the expectation of doing more in less time, but also the pressure to be connected and "on" 24/7 just to keep pace with the increasing demands. It’s no wonder that stress and burnout have become growing workplace problems. The World Health Organization has called stress “the health epidemic of the 21st century,” and has recently brought more attention to the seriousness of this problem by redefining burnout, in the upcoming version of the International Classification of Diseases, as a "syndrome" that is tied to "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
Stress not only contributes to health problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease but according to Gallup, in a study of 7,500 full-time employees, about two-thirds reported experiencing burnout on the job. Burned out employees were 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively looking for a different job.
With this kind of impact, it's clear we can no longer operate business as usual. The problem is though; we often feel we are too busy even to give this critical issue the time and attention it deserves. Here are a few ways that even with our busy lives, we can build the habits that can decrease stress and promote workplace wellness and engagement.
1. Manage your time
The boundaries between our work and life have become increasingly blurred, and part of the stress we experience comes from feeling like we are at the mercy of all of the things we must do each week, with little control, choice, or satisfaction at the end. Instead, you should begin each week by preparing for the projects you must complete, but also planning what you will do to restore your energy in small ways each day, and the activities that you can look forward to on the weekends. Rather than seeing yourself as available 24/7 to respond to every email that comes in, you should create blocks of time that you can check and respond so you can control your time and reduce stress while still being connected and available.
2. Manage your attention
We often rely on multitasking to solve our too much to do with not enough time problem, but the truth is that multitasking not only makes us less productive, not more, but it also increases our burnout and lowers our overall satisfaction. Your mind can only effectively focus on one task of the same type at a time. When you think you're multitasking by writing an email and talking on the phone at the same time for example, what you're really doing is typing part of an email, then stopping and switching to your phone conversation, then stopping and returning to your email, and so on. Not only will it take you longer overall, but you won't be as accurate, and you're taxing your brain because you need to continually need to refocus with all of the switching back and forth. This is really serial tasking, not multitasking. Instead, you should work in 90- 120-minute cycles because that’s how long your brain can focus before it needs a break. You should take a break to distract yourself between each cycle, which will then allow you to have more sustained performance throughout the day.
3. Manage your movement
By now, we all know that our physical health and mental well-being are inextricably linked. Regular exercise has the power to lower your stress levels and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. That's because exercise releases chemicals called endorphins into your bloodstream. These chemicals give you a feeling of happiness, which in turn positively affects your overall sense of well-being. So not only does exercise keep the body young, it keeps the mind vital and promotes emotional well-being. We often make exercising an all or nothing proposition, instead of finding ways to build regular exercise into our daily routine in the workplace and our lives. Ideally, you can add in frequent movement breaks where you can step outside and physically as well as visually disconnect for short periods. Between meetings, instead of only responding to emails, use that time to get your body moving before the next meeting or project begins.
4. Manage your environment
Your physical environment at work should also be managed to reduce stress. While more open work environments can increase employee interaction and collaboration, they can also increase stress and decrease productivity because of the noise distractions, not to mention the built-in expectation that you must always be available for impromptu meetings and discussions throughout the workday. When possible, use a more private workspace when you need to focus and complete a task that requires your concentration and find ways to use signals like do not disturb signs so you can maintain control of when you are available to others, and you can go from always "on" to present and focused.
5. Manage your engagement
One big opportunity you have for generating more energy and reducing stress and increasing positive emotions and increasing your energy each day is working in a way that is consistent with what is meaningful to you and is a good fit with your talents and skills. You can leverage the energy you create from these experiences to also help you restore the energy that has become depleted in the other areas in your life.
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Building the habits that will help us reduce stress and burnout while increasing our wellness doesn't need to be complicated. Start where you are, with just a few of the habits that you feel can make a difference for you right now. Stay with it, as we all know that building any habit is not a one and one. It takes repeated practice and commitment.