Work-Life Integration

Helping your employees get in shape can help your bottom line do the same

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Are your employees doing enough exercise?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), roughly 35% of people fall short of the recommended 150 minutes of weekly physical exercise.

Now I know that I don’t always reach that magical figure and my number one reason is – no time. If, like myself, you work full time, you can expect to spend around 50% of your waking day at work. When you throw in things such as duties at home and having a social life, you can easily run out of time to fit in some exercise or even just have the pleasure of walking to work. This has consequences.

Here in the UK we lose 131 million working days due to ill-health each year, which is roughly translated as around £100 billion(1). This sickening figure could easily be reduced according to those in academia. Multiple studies have shown that increases in exercise (both during and after work), can lead to a reduction in sick days, less presenteeism and an overall reduction in the cost of sickness absence for organisations.

And there are good examples that this is true from outside of academia as well. As Phil Smith, Chairman of Cisco, highlighted in a recent FT article, a significant portion of Cisco’s private healthcare budget is spent treating musculoskeletal conditions, caused primarily by sedentary work. This, many argue, can be reduced simply by employees exercising more, rather than spending their time sitting at their desks.

But it’s not just on absenteeism and healthcare budgets where you’ll see impressive gains, it’s also about how your employees perform when they’re at work where you’ll see a difference.

The benefits of exercise are well-documented – it puts your staff in a better mood and reduces their likelihood of suffering from depression. But importantly for many employers it also improves productivity, memory and can even lead to be better job satisfaction, which again improves overall performance. On the opposite side of the coin, common challenges such as workplace stress, burnout, employee turnover and presenteeism, were all found to be reduced when employees were given the option to exercise more whilst at work.

The final benefit can be found in how whole teams perform. A recent study out of Loughborough University(2) found that employees taking part in team-sports, such as football, netball, volleyball and rugby reported an improvement in team cohesion and also their overall performance.

So, it’s clear then that you can improve your bottom line by helping your employees improve their own wellbeing. Relatively easy steps like the messaging given out and the example set by leaders is a great way to encourage employees to be more active – and when they start to see some changes, so will you.

As a challenge to you all then, this week ask yourself: Am I truly encouraging my team to take opportunities for movement and exercise during the day? Am I taking the stairs or hosting walking meetings rather than just sitting in a meeting room? Am I leading by example or could I be doing more?

 

  1. Department of Work and Pensions (DoWP). (2014). Long term sickness absence. UK Government: London.
  2. Brinkley A., McDermott, H. and Munir, F., 2017. What benefits does team sport hold for the workplace? A systematic review. Journal of Sports Sciences

Burned Out?

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haniahDistracted. Stressed. Burned out. In an age of constant communication and economic pressure, a common dilemma for workers today is how to manage all of the competing demands in work and life. As a researcher of Future of Work, I have been studying and exploring this topic for over five years now. Here are three strategies I have found to be most useful for successfully managing our multiple responsibilities:

 

  1. Strive for work-life integration—not balance. It is true that for some time, the advice was to create stiffer boundaries between work and home but new research suggests that maintaining strict distinctions between work roles and home roles might actually be what is causing our feelings of stress to set in. Researchers Jeffrey Greenhaus and Gary Powell expand on this concept and recommend that work and personal life should be allies and that integration of multiple identities, such as parent, partner, friend, employee, can actually enhance physical and psychological well-being. Simply put, even in the busiest of schedules, the most practical and effective way we can live is by aligning our personal priorities of work, family, health, and well-being. Stewart Friedman, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School has developed a very thought-provoking exercise that can help us examine the importance and congruence of our various identities and responsibilities in life. (You can do it online at this free site: myfourcircles.com.)
  2. Make time for the work that matters: By managing our time differently, we can work more effectively in less time and improve our wellbeing. Researchers Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir have found that reducing the workday to fewer hours creates periods of heightened productivity called ‘focus dividends’, thereby forcing us to prioritise the work that matters. Recently, I came across a company called Tower Paddle Boards who are experimenting with this approach by letting employees leave by lunchtime. The results have been astounding. They have been part of the 5000 list of America’s fastest growing companies over the past two years and in 2015, their 10-person team generated $9 million in revenues.
  3. Build periods of recovery: The very lack of a recovery period is dramatically holding back our collective ability to be resilient and successful. In today’s hyper-paced environment, we need to build periods of relaxation that take place within the frames of the workday in the form of short breaks. One strategy is inspired by the research of Nathaniel Kleitman, who established that our brains work in 90-minute rest-activity cycles not only when we sleep but also when we are awake. This means that we should take a recharging break every hour and a half, especially if we are using technology, which makes the brain overly active. Evidence for this approach can be seen in the work of Professor K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues from Florida State University who have studied elite performers, including musicians, athletes, actors, and chess players. In each of these fields, Dr. Ericsson found that the best performers typically practice in uninterrupted sessions that last no more than 90 minutes.

I’m really looking forward to exploring this topic further and look forward to presenting additional insights at our upcoming Future of Work Masterclass on Shifting Identities.