Is Work Killing You?
“What makes the discussion about workload and well-being so important is that employees really do want to do their best. By taking on more and more work, they are jeopardizing their health,” says Your Workplace President and Publisher Vera Asanin. “While claims and costs are escalating, quality of life is decreasing. This must stop.”
The conference featured dynamic keynote speakers, workshops, concurrent learning sessions, and opportunities to network and exchange ideas for building thriving workplaces with an engaged and productive workforce.
DR. DAVID POSEN
With a calm demeanour, Dr. David Posen has a strong underlying passionate current about making the workplace better for everyone. He brought a stellar combination of medical expertise and organizational observations to the YW Conference audience and shared highlights from his research and book, Is Work Killing You? Dr. Posen was not only funny and entertaining, but also insightful and thought-provoking. Certainly, many members of the audience walked away with new tactics and strategies to implement for themselves personally and for their workplaces.
There are four key points to why work is potentially killing us:
First, stress at work is making people sick. Some stress is a good thing—it enhances our short-term functioning. However, too much stress can negatively impact you and cause impaired cognitive skills, blood sugar imbalances and increased abdominal fat retention. Who wants that?
This leads to the second point: not enough people are talking about these problems. And then thirdly, time and energy spent on work becomes counterproductive. If we are running all day in our hamster wheels, with our heads down and no social support helping us, then what could we do about it? Fortunately, Posen’s fourth point is that solutions are not complicated.
Posen narrowed the causes of workplace stress down to volume of work, and velocity of work and abuse.
Essentially, there are fewer people doing more work. We used to think that technology would save us and give us longer weekends and shorter working days, but the opposite seems to be true —technology causes problems and therefore more work, and the productivity expectations only got higher.
Furthermore, as many have experienced, the pace of work is increasing at a frenetic pace. We need to slow it down because we simply can’t keep up—it’s not reasonable, nor humane.
Finally, under the stress of all this pressure, there is more abuse in the workplace. Bullying, harassment and intimidation are all on the rise, claims
Posen. This may be because incidents are actually increasing, and possibly because people won’t stand for it anymore and are reporting it more frequently. In either case, our awareness is heightened and we’re always on guard.
Posen didn’t leave us there in the depths of despair, however. He brought us back into the light with some simple and cost-effective ways to stop the madness.
While employees certainly need to be more assertive about the pace of work and workplace treatment, employees also need to ensure they take breaks during the day and vacations during the year. Too many workers are not taking their full allotment of vacation time, and that’s going to hurt in the long run.
It is also up to each of us to look after our physical beings. We need to get solid, renewing sleep every night, eat healthily and stay hydrated with water. And we need to form strong social support networks in our personal and professional lives. If we can do that, and businesses get on board so employees don’t burn out, we’ll have workplaces where we can thrive and grow instead of burn out.
JAMIE GRUMAN, PHD
Dr. Jamie Gruman was warmly welcomed at the 2014 Your Workplace conference. He is a distinguished professor at the University of Guelph in the business department and is the Chair of the Board of the Canadian Positive Psychology Association. While there are many applications of positive psychology in the business world, such as employee engagement and corporate climate, Dr. Gruman is researching a brand new area: “boosting”.
Think about the last time that you took a vacation. First of all, for many Canadian employees, that might have been a very long time ago. According to the fourth annual Expedia.ca™/Ipsos Reid Vacation Deprivation survey, up to 25% of Canadian workers do not take all of their vacation allotment. This is to the detriment of the employees, because time away from work is beneficial to relax and refresh—right? Well, it turns out, that depends.
New research by Dr. Gruman shows that how you take vacation—and how you plan your return to work—is also incredibly important for your psychological state. ReNEW, which is the new model that Dr. Gruman is proposing, has four major elements:
Take the time on your vacation to replenish your Resources — both physical and psychological. This could mean getting more exercise, shutting off your BlackBerry and disconnecting from work hassles. It’s not a vacation if you’re still on call—or feel that you are!
You also need to look after your Needs. Of course, sleep is a chronic need for most adults, but we also have psychological needs. According to Deci and Ryan’s Self Determination Theory, we all have intrinsic needs for competence, relatedness and autonomy. So take the time on your vacation to do something that fulfills you — finish a project that you’ve been wanting to accomplish, get together with friends and family, or take the initiative on something important to you.
It’s important to Escape on your vacation as well —and that doesn’t have to involve an expensive airfare to remote islands. Turn off your email. Change your routine. More relaxation and more detachment during your vacation time means more replenishment for you.
Finally, it’s important to conscientiously look after your Well-being. Increase your positive experiences, decrease the negative, and enhance your satisfaction — savour your vacation by creating lasting memories that you will enjoy in the future.
Dr. Gruman also shared some practical tips on enhancing your “boosting” experience. For example, build in downtime when you return. It’s no fun to rush back home on a Sunday night and then go in to work first thing Monday morning and run into an important meeting. Why not come back on Saturday and spend one day at home unpacking, getting your groceries and easing into the work mindset? Why not book off Monday morning to just knock off emails and catch up socially (and professionally) with your colleagues?
We know that vacation time and downtime are crucially important to our work well-being. Be sure to craft those experiences to truly ReNEW and be your best at work.
Dr. David Ulrich has been a paragon in the HR field for years, which was demonstrated as he shared insights of what he has seen, to many nodding heads in the audience. He definitely knows what he’s talking about.
It isn’t just the present that concerns Ulrich—it’s what we do for the future. The world, and therefore the workplace, is definitely changing. We see it not just in the technology, but also in the social environment, our economic frameworks and realities, political change and unrest around the world, changing demographics and the increasing importance of the environment.
Given that reality, it’s even more important for businesses to assert their competitiveness—not just by working harder, but by ensuring that they have the right talent pool to start with. If the people are wrong, it won’t matter how hard you encourage them to work or what your benefit plan is. You have to get the right people in the door.
These employees need to be competent—they need to have the right skills at the right time in the right place. But they also need to be committed. Top-quality employees are often flight risks, and so organizations must to commit to those employees so that they will commit back. Finally, these employees have to make important contributions to the workplace. In order for them to make those meaningful contributions, they need to see purpose in their work, they need to feel attached to the workplace environment, and they need to have positive social relationships with their team, including the boss. There are many other factors to consider, which Ulrich detailed in his talk, but these were the most critical.
Ulrich then took the talk into my favourite area: positive psychology. He referenced Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi’s concept of flow—that we work best when our skills and the challenge are both optimized. Certainly, the more that organizations can set the conditions so that employees experience “flow”, the more fulfilled and satisfied employees are likely to be. Furthermore, satisfied and engaged employees are more likely to drive sales, customer satisfaction and organizational values.
As individual employees, how can we be more engaged and fulfilled? We do want to find our flow and seek out meaning and purpose at work. We should cultivate and enjoy rewarding social relationships at work. We should also ensure that we are keeping our skills updated and our business awareness must stay keen and true. Fundamentally, however, we need to approach all of this with a “growth mindset”.
Many people have a fixed mindset, believing that their intelligence (or parenting skills, or ability to use a computer, etc.) is fixed at a certain point. It’s their innate talent and they can’t possibly learn or do more. Ulrich encouraged us to develop a growth mindset—to realize that challenges can be overcome through dedication and hard work, and that we can all get better at whatever we set our minds to. Employees with growth mindsets learn more, do more and have better work experiences. They are more resilient, more adaptable to change and more productive in the workplace. I would suspect that they also have more fun.
Ulrich left us thinking of the implications of his talk for ourselves and for our organizations. Certainly, there is much that can be done.
All-in-all, the two days of the conference reminded attendees of the shared truth embedded in our work lives year-round: Although workload, employee well-being and the diverse workforce have been researched and discussed over the years, these topics continue to impact business success. The need for all influencers, regardless of their role, to consider research findings, discuss the issues and explore actionable solution options is critical to continue to achieve improvements. The Your Workplace Conference will continue to give delegates the space to do this in the years to come.