With the ability to work 24/7, employees are finding that work blends in with family and personal time. It can be impossible to separate the two. With work email on our smart phones and the ability to respond at a moment’s notice, we are working more than the typical 8-hour day. Whether that’s in the office or not, the amount of time we spend working can cause harm to our bodies.
New research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology finds, “A combination of stress, raised blood pressure and unhealthy diets stemming from long working hours may be the cause of thousands of workers’ serious health problems.” In fact, the study found that “spending too long in the office resulted in a 40 to 80 percent greater chance of heart disease compared to an eight hour work day.”
It’s impossible to limit our hours. Or is it? What can HR do to help promote a healthy work environment?
With the flexible environment that comes with technology, employees can fit in personal tasks and make up the work throughout the day. However, if you find that employees are constantly stressed, talk about having little time with family, and/or regularly respond to emails after hours (1am is just too late!)…well, you’ve got to change the culture.
Leadership should encourage teams to work together efficiently. This includes arranging regular meeting times to accomplish the work and discuss assignments. Schedule conference calls earlier than later in the day. Nurture a healthy work hour culture instead of a “sleepless badge of honor” environment.
Support your teams and fellow colleagues and lead by example. Take a break. Set aside time to get work done and when the time is up, shift gears to something else. It’s been said it takes 7 days to start a new habit. Try limiting the amount of time you glance at your email, take calls, and even the use of technology. Give yourself a break.
Introduce wellness workshops on healthy living. From cooking to exercise, employees are interested in ways to reduce stress and boost their wellbeing and that of their families. So, if your managers can’t kick the 11pm email habit, maybe you can entice them with a fun cooking class or summer softball league.
There are so many wellness options and ideas (and some are free!) available to your organization that it’s easy to pick and choose those that will work best for your employees. From on-site health fairs to nutrition plans designed “just for you,” everyone can find something that works for them.
American Electric Power (AEP) in Columbus, Ohio found that many of their employees were stressed, not eating well, and sometimes sleeping in their cars to keep up with the work demand. In order to find out what was really going on, the company hired wellness coordinators to “ride along” with employees to get the first-hand experience. After learning how crews worked during power outages and what it felt like to turn off the power at the home of a delinquent customer, they learned about the stressors, how employees handled the stress, and what was being done to ease the stress. This ride along helped the organization come up with a month-long plan to reduce stress. Their goal was to reduce healthcare costs and increase productivity. Results were impressive. “AEP saw a 40 percent increase in (health) screening participation from 2007 to 2008. A total of 6,524 employees registered for a health-coaching program in 2008, up from just 247 in 2007.”
Encourage employees to work hard, but work efficiently. It’s difficult trying to maintain a productive work and personal life when everyone is so busy. Something always gets pushed to the side and stress levels have a tendency to increase without warning. Set goals, prioritize the day, and eliminate things that don’t add value. A “workaholic” is not exactly something to aspire to. A happy, healthy, and productive life that is well balanced is the key to maintaining a positive outlook that delivers great results.