Advice for managing screen time whilst working from home

Access to digital technology, especially during the Covid-19 lockdown, has proved a lifeline for many of us.  It has allowed us to stay in touch, socialize and, for some of us, be able to keep working from home.  It is, however, important to balance our reliability on technology and be aware of the impact if can have on our health and wellbeing.

Here are some tips on how to develop and keep positive digital habits, especially if your job currently relies on you working from behind a screen at home.

Set a clear workday.  It can be easy, if working from home, to work longer hours than if you if you were in your place of work.  Without a commute, for example, it can be easy to fill that time with work.  If your regular work hours are 9 – 5.30, abide by those at home, and switch off your work computer or tablet at 5.30 for the rest of the evening.  When you have finished work for the day, move away from screens, and if possible spend time outdoors, by going for a walk, or having a coffee outside.

Take breaks and be less sedentary.  In your place of work you are more likely to step away from your desk, whether to speak with colleagues, attend meetings, collect items from the printer, etc.  When working from behind a screen at home, be mindful that meetings are virtual and contact with colleagues is via email.  Ensure you take a lunch break where you move away from your home work setup.  Allow your eyes rest from screen time – now the lockdown rules are being loosened, perhaps arrange to meet a friend for a socially distanced picnic outdoors.

Return to pen and paper.  If your job requires creativity, writing or planning, for example, why not take a pen and paper and draft and note-take away from your computer.  It may help inspire you with a new perspective. 

Focus on one task.  When working from home, it can seem like a must to have notifications turned on at all times and to regularly check your emails.  At the beginning of your workday, schedule your time, including time to check in on and respond to emails – as much as possible stick to your schedule.  Focusing on one task at a time can be less stressful than switching between various digital windows.

Measure your screen time.  It may be the case for many of us that we don’t quite realise how much time we are spending behind a screen.  Try over a couple of days to time how long you are on your phone, tablet, computer, and watching television.  If the amount of time surprises you, aim to perhaps lessen your screen time by a few minutes each day, and in those minutes commit to a hobby, for example reading a physical book or starting a jigsaw.  Outside of work, if you find yourself reaching for your phone to occupy your hands, why not try a Sudoku puzzle.

Avoid screens in the bedroom. Many of us rely on our phones or digital alarms clocks in the mornings now. If possible, why no try switching to a traditional clock-face alarm clock and leave any screens, including tablets and mobile phones outside your bedroom. This will help prevent screens being the first and last things looked at sandwiching sleep.

Be kind to yourself.  Balancing screen time can be tricky, between it being a source of winding down, a means to work and way to keep in touch, it has, for many of us, become a huge part of our daily lives and one that we have come to rely on.  If you feel yourself becoming agitated or stressed from looking at screen for extended periods of time, encourage yourself to step away.  Constantly being connected can be stressful, check in with yourself – do you need to be looking at screen at this time?  A great practice to adopt is to take a book, magazine, cup of tea and leave all technology behind, for example your phone in another room, and a room that doesn’t have a television or a computer in it, if you are able to sit outside even better!

Covid-19 return-to-work resources for employers

General safety in the workplace

WHO | Getting Your Workplace Ready for Covid-19

HSE | Working Safely During the Coronavirus (Covid-19) Outbreak

GOV UK | Covid-19: Infection Prevention and Control Guidance

Specific advice

SOM | Sustaining Work-Relevant Mental Health Post COVID-19 Toolkit

RCOG | Covid-19 Virus Infection and Pregnancy

GOV UK | Working Safely During Coronavirus (Covid-19)

Advice for combating loneliness whilst working from home

The Mental Health Foundation recently released the results of its Longitudinal Study which revealed almost a quarter – 24% – of UK adults surveyed are experiencing loneliness due to having to social distance as a consequence of the coronavirus pandemic and that feelings of loneliness have more than doubled over the course of lockdown.

In April the UK government launched a public health campaign – #Let’sTalkLoneliness – to help combat loneliness and social isolation, encouraging people to speak more openly about loneliness. If you, like many, are working from home, and most likely will be for the foreseeable future, below are some tips to help fend off loneliness.

Keep in touch with colleagues, as well as friends as family through video chat where possible.  If you are able to regularly touch base with colleagues it can help in a sense of camaraderie, where you can chat over any highs and lows of working away from your usual environment, and talk over any difficulties you may be experiencing whilst working in isolation, with colleagues who may be experiencing similar feelings.  It can help in not feeling so alone and in creating a sense of positive reinforcement, which can be lost outside of your usual work environment.  Let your colleagues know that they are doing a good job, whether via email or in a video meeting.  Feeling a sense of appreciation for the work you are doing can have a big and positive impact on your mental health.  And do not be afraid to reach out.  If you are experiencing difficulties with a piece of work, email a colleague or two to see if they are available for a brief video meeting, where you can bounce ideas off of each other, something which you are much more likely to do if you are in a communal working space, and gain another perspective.

If you are working from home in isolation, it can help to look into joining an online group, anything from culture clubs to exercise classes, games nights and choirs.  Having a group activity to look forward to in either your lunch break or after work can help motivate you throughout the day.  During your lunch break or directly after finishing work can also be a good time to go outdoors for a walk or other form of exercise.  Whilst the government advice is to have as limited contact as possible with people from outside your household, seeing other people out and about can help reduce feelings of loneliness.

If your job role allows, embrace the flexibility.  Without your morning commute, for example, you may find it easier to begin your workday earlier, or a little later if you find it beneficial to organise a non-work related video catch up with a friend or colleague first thing in the morning over a cup of coffee.

Allow for lows. It is a very unusual time, and whilst some aspects of normal daily life are gradually beginning to reemerge, the effects of this pandemic will be around for many months to come. It is okay to experience unsettling feelings, whether they be frustration or worry. Take time to recognise how you are feeling and how these feelings might be impacting you during this time. You are not alone in is these feelings. Do not bottle them up. Speak openly with people you trust.

Further reading and resources

Let’s Talk Loneliness – https://letstalkloneliness.co.uk

Every Mind Matters – https://www.nhs.uk/oneyou/every-mind-matters/

We are Here For You https://www.mind.org.uk/coronavirus-we-are-here-for-you/

Mental Health Helplines – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/mental-health-helplines/

Work / life balance

Whether working from home, or having work email come through to our phones, there is a decreasing distinction between work and life outside of work. It is rare nowadays to be disconnected. The feeling of constant connectivity is one of the reasons why more of us are experiencing stress, which in turn can lead to mental health issues.

The Centre for Mental Health released a report in 2017 – Mental Health at Work: Developing a Business Case – that showed the average cost to British employers for employees experiencing mental health is £1300 per employee, over a 25% rise from 10 years previously. A recent survey found that 4 out of 5 people believed stress to be part of their daily life.

Stress is an emotional strain, and we often experience it at work when we feel out of our depth, either in relation to our skills or time constraints. Having a good work/life balance can help to reduce our feelings of stress and improve our overall happiness.

After considering the demands of your professional and personal life, create realistic boundaries. A good starting point is to give yourself a defined working day. Afterwards prioritise events, both in your job and personal life. It’s a good habit to get into, and helps with day-to-day organisation and focusing concentration.

Be sure to set aside a time for rest each day and adhere to that time. During a rest period move away from your workspace, especially whilst eating your lunch. It is also good to have leisure activities to look forward to, which can help to reduce working too much overtime.

Learn to say ‘no’. If something is asked of you, you assess your prioritised list, both in relation to your workload and your defined working hours, and if that extra requested tasks add pressure to your workload, it is okay to sometimes say ‘no’. You should communicate with your employer about the pressures you feel so that they are able to be addressed.

Let go of perfectionism. In many respects it is unachievable, and in itself adds extra pressure. Build from small steps, that are manageable and adjustable.

Practical steps for helping manage mental health conditions in the workplace

In recent years there has been a mostly positive shift towards increasing awareness of mental health issues in the workplace.  However, alongside awareness, mental health campaigners would like to see more employers take practical steps to help aid their employees who are suffering from mental health conditions.

Taking into consideration the increasing levels of immediacy within modern workplaces, there has been a rise in the number of employees feeling under pressure constantly to perform to the point of feeling worn down.  This is in turn can lead to the development anxiety and depression, which affects a person’s ability to handle stress, communicate with others and make decisions.

In a study conducted by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development it was highlighted that employees suffering from poor mental health are more likely to become involved in conflict with colleagues, find it difficult to balance multiple tasks and take longer to complete those tasks, and struggle with concentration.

Develop an Action Plan

  • outline a step by step guide to educate staff and managers in order to reduce stigma and bias
  • develop support network to help those suffering with poor mental health, for example by having a trained workplace champion(s) who might not necessarily be a manager and who people feel they can approach
  • ensure that senior staff are seen to champion positive attitudes towards mental health awareness and that they lead by example
  • identify areas in the workplace which may lead to mental health issues arising, for example by looking into staff turnover and sickness absence. Involve staff in this process.  It will highlight that their employers are actively seeking to improve the working environment
  • encourage staff to develop their own wellness plans, which can help them to identify triggers and early warning signs, how their day-to-day performance is affected and what support they might need from their manager

What to do if a team member approaches you to talk about their mental health

  • allow for privacy, in a place not likely to be disturbed
  • show appreciation that your colleague is confiding in you
  • allow them to talk as much as they need and listen to what they are saying
  • try to identify areas in the workplace that may be responsible for increasing their mental health concerns, talk over potential solutions, and allow for time to think things over and consideration as to what positive steps and reasonable adjustments may be made
  • understand and agree how or if they would like their mental health to be communicated to and shared with their colleagues. No pressure should be applied
  • arrange to catch up and communicate regularly

Extend support beyond the employee experiencing poor mental health

  • managers should be available to all members of staff to talk about their concerns and worries
  • any support services offered by an organisation should be made available to employees and promoted throughout the workplace

Mental health issues affect people in many different ways. It is important to remember that many sufferers will experience highs and lows throughout their working career and life in general.  Fostering awareness of how mental health may affect people in the workplace is a positive step in the right direction, although using that awareness to identify and make changes in the workplace to reflect that awareness is an even better step.

Top Tips for Employers and Employees in Surviving the Cold and Flu Season

2018 for many may have started with a sore head, but not all of those would have been the result of excessive enjoyment bringing in the New Year. For many 2018 started with a sore throat, a runny nose, and a wish to stay in bed as the cold and flu season hit the UK. Hospitals have been feeling the strain and many people seem to have fallen ill.

 

The difference between a Cold and the Flu:

  • Cold:
    • Develops more gradually over one or two days
    • Is most contagious during the early stages
    • Tends to have more nasal issues
    • Individuals should start to feel better after a few days although some colds can last up to two weeks.
  • Flu:
    • Usually is much quicker at developing with symptoms appearing 1-3 days after infection
    • Fever, tiredness, and muscle aches are more likely and more severe
    • Individuals should begin to feel better within a week or so, but they may feel tired for much longer

 

Symptoms of Cold and Flu:

  • Blocked or runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Headaches
  • Cough
  • Sneezing
  • Pressure in your ears and face
  • Loss of taste and smell
  • A high temperature or fever
  • Muscle aches and pains
  • Feeling exhausted and needing to lie down

 

Top Tips for surviving the Cold and Flu Season:

  1. Rest:
  • If an individual comes down with a cold or the flu it is recommended that they rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthily, taking over the counter painkillers or remedies where necessary (speak to a pharmacist for more information and remember to read the instructions).
  • Findings show that those affected tend to be less productive. If an individual has the sniffles, are sneezing, and have a sore throat they have a cold. Individuals are contagious 2-3 days before the symptoms appear and until they are gone. They may be better staying at home to recover more quickly and to reduce the risk of sharing their bugs with others in the office.
  • Tip for employer: Where possible consider allowing employees to work from home. Allowing employees to conduct some work at home may help reduce staffing pressures due to illness whilst also reducing the risk of others in the office catching the illness.
  1. Ventilate rooms but also keep warm:
  • Whether at home or at work ventilating the room may help to reduce the spread of the virus. Some research suggests the way we act in winter helps spread a cold infection. In winter we spend more time indoors with the windows sealed therefore creating a prime environment for people to breathe in the same air including any infective partials.
  • However, remember to stay warm, research also suggests that cold dry air helps a cold virus grow.
  1. Keep up excellent hygiene practices:
  • Wash your hands regularly and use alcohol gel were required
  • Use tissues, sneezing and coughing into them then throwing them away after one use
  • Clean surfaces and crockery properly
  • Tip for employer: Supply plenty of tissues, soap, and hand gel. Encouraging good hygiene practices may help to reduce the spread of the illness.

 

If individuals are generally fit and healthy they can usually manage the symptoms themselves.

For additional information:

 

References:

  1. Common Cold (NHS) – https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/common-cold/
  2. What is ‘Aussie’ flu and should we be worried? (BBC) – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-42602394
  3. The reasons for the Season: why flu strikes in Winter (Harvard, December 2014) – http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2014/the-reason-for-the-season-why-flu-strikes-in-winter/
  4. Common cold: Too unwell to work? (BootsWebMD) – https://www.webmd.boots.com/cold-and-flu/cold-guide/common-cold-too-sick-to-work

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

What is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)?

CFS (also known as ME, myalgic encephalomyelitis) is an illness which affects as many as 4 per 1000 of the UK population.  Sufferers experience a disabling tiredness, as well as potential other symptoms, which may include headaches, an inability to concentrate and musculoskeletal pain.  On occasion, people suffering from CFS might also experience depression or anxiety.

Although symptoms can be recognised early, CFS is not diagnosed unless a person has been suffering from its symptoms for at least 6 months.  Prior to a diagnosis, a person can have been perfectly healthy, with no history to suggest a diagnosis of CFS.  At this time, little is known as to what triggers the illness.

Managing CFS

Each individual suffering CFS will have a different experience.  In some cases they may be able to manage on their own, with maybe an occasional day off work.  In more severe cases their ability to concentrate might be so significantly reduced, which may make simple tasks more challenging to undertake in the workplace.

Research suggests that around 40% of sufferers will return and can function in the workplace.  It is therefore important to have a tailored strategy in place to aid an employee suffering from CFS.  This may even help further with their recovery.  It is also important to note that  those with CFS can have good and bad days. On a good day they can undertake their daily activities and appear capable and focused, and then on bad days they may have difficiutly getting out of bed in the morning.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) advises that a treatment programme should aim to maintain and/or increase a CFS sufferer’s emotional and physical abilities, and that this programme should be devised by a healthcare professional, tailored specifically for an individual sufferer.  It is important to highlight that the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers CFS a chronic (long-term) neurological condition. 

As an employer, some symptoms to watch out for in an employee are possible self-medication, working longer hours, and increased sickness absence.  If a work-environment is seeking to actively educate employees about early warning signs of potential health issues, this can have a positive lasting effect for both the company and its employees, especially for those already suffering from a long-term illness, and those who might experience an illness later on.  It reasures an employee with CFS, or any long-term illness, knowing that their employer is supportive in helping them manage their illness.   


Further reading and resources:

ME Association

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome – Diagnosis | NHS

Menopause in the Workplace

Menopause affects women in varying degrees.  It is not automatically classed as a disability in England and Wales, although its symptoms can have significant adverse effects on a woman’s working life, which can lead to some employees losing confidence in the workplace.  Symptoms of menopause include hot flushes, difficulty sleeping and night sweats, anxiety, depression, reduced concentration, headaches, dry skin and eyes, and can usually last for about 4 years, although on occasions longer.

A responsible employer should recognise that women may need additional work place support.  Fostering an open, confidential, channel of communication is key in encouraging employees to discuss problems and/or challenges they may be facing in coping with menopause. It is also important that all employees understand what menopause is and how it may affect some colleagues, so as a sense of understanding is developed.

Good occupational health practices to consider are:

  • flexible working hours to help address disturbed nights sleep, including flexible break times
  • flexible sickness absence policies to accommodate for menopause
  • mindfulness towards how symptoms may affect an employee’s workplace performance
  • alternative, or relaxation, of dress code
  • cool, ventilated spaces and access to cold water
  • working with occupational health specialists to ensure that all best practices and responsibilities are being considered and met, and undertaking appropriate risk assessments.

With more women remaining longer in the workplace it is important that menopause and its symptoms are recognised and spoken about openly, without embarrassment, in the workplace.

How to deal with work related stress

Some work-related stress is often not uncommon in our day-to-day lives.  In many instances it can help to motivate us to succeed.  However there are times when stress can go beyond being a motivational boost and begin to interfere with our productivity and performance, even our health.  In these instances, there are steps we can take to help reduce the pressure and feel in control again.

Talk to your manager

  • If you’re feeling under pressure due to deadlines or unexpected setbacks, it’s important to be upfront and honest with your manager.  A proactive discussion with your manager about your responsibilities can be a very valuable experience.

Connect with colleagues

  • having a colleague at work to talk to can be a great stress reliever.  Instead of spending your lunch break alone, or on your phone, ask a colleague to join you for a walk outdoors.  Fresh air and a friendly chat can help with easing tensions.

Make a list

  • as simple as it sounds, writing down everything you’re trying to juggle and prioritise in your mind can lift a burden.  Once you have your list, number the tasks in relation of importance and work through them accordingly, crossing off each as accomplished.  It may even help to divide each task into steps.

Make sure you’re well rested

  • going to sleep and waking up at the same time each morning helps to encourage your mind and body into a routine, which should make it easier to go to sleep and wake up.
  • although the recommended aim is for 8 hours of sleep a night, don’t worry if you’ve had a troubled night sleep.  Often, even when we are struggling to sleep, we do get at least a couple or more hours of quality sleep.  Focus on those hours, as opposed to the ones you were awake.
  • for further information visit Top Tips for a Restful Night’s Sleep

Take care of yourself

  • even small amounts of exercise have proven to have a positive effect on increasing energy levels and focus.  For some great tips on how to be more active in the workplace click here.
  • maintaining a balanced blood sugar level can help towards avoiding lethargic periods and mid-morning/afternoon slumps.  Fruit is a great alternative to processed sugar, as it releases the sugar more slowly and consistently into your bloodstream. 

Further reading and resources:

Stress Management | Help Guide

Beat Stress at Work | NHS

Liver Disease in the Workplace

Due to the potential stigma often attached to the associations of liver disease, the condition can oftentimes remain unrecognised and therefore unsupported in the workplace, which is a cause for concern considering liver disease is thought to be the third most common cause of premature death in the UK. 

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It is important to make sure that those suffering from the disease are afforded the same respect and dignity as those with other conditions, and that if alcohol misuse is a factor in their diagnosis that the workplace focus isn’t based around their performance and attendance, but more so the risks of the condition.

Whilst alcohol misuse is one of the leading causes of liver disease, it is by no means the only cause.  It can also be attributed to obesity and viral hepatitis.  The key signs to look out for in employees who might be suffering from the condition are fatigue, usually the inability to complete a full day’s work, and jaundice – it can lead to very itchy skin as the liver struggles to rid itself of toxins that subsequently build up. 

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As an employer it may help to discuss with an employee suffering from liver disease about reducing hours, particularly if heavy manual labour is involved.  It’s also crucial to have a good alcohol policy in place that promotes awareness and encourages employees to help understand how best to support colleagues who have problems with alcohol.

If an employee’s condition is particularly serious, they may require a liver transplant, which can mean up to 8-12 weeks of recovery time and the long-term use of medication.  If this is the case it is very important to have a suitable return-to-work programme in place, coordinated with an OH specialist.

The British Liver Trust, as part of their Love Your Liver campaign, is currently calling for the Government to support universal screening for the disease, arguing it could potentially save the NHS up to £600 million a year.  Simultaneously they have developed an online screening tool in order to help raise awareness.