Work / Life Balance

Whether working from home, or having our work email come through to our phones, the boundary between our work lives and lives outside of work is becoming less distinct. 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 poor mental health.

In 2017 The Centre for Mental Health released a report (Mental Health at Work: Developing a Business Case) which estimated the average cost to employers in Britain for employees experiencing poor mental health to be £1300 per employee, over a 25% increase from 10 years previously.

A recent survey found that four out of five people believed stress to be a part of their daily life. Stress is an emotional strain and we often experience it at work when we feel out of our depth, perhaps in relation to our perceived abilities and limitations and/or time constraints. Having a good work/life balance can help to reduce our feelings of stress and improve our overall happiness. It is important to take a step back and consider the demands of our professional and personal lives and from there begin to form realistic boundaries. A good starting point is to define your working day hours, and within those hours prioritise events in a list. This is a great habit to practise and helps both with organisation and focus of concentration.

Create a time and space to rest each day and adhere to that time. If something is asked of you, assess your prioritised list, in relation to your workload and defined working hours, and if an extra requested task adds pressure to your workload, it is okay sometimes to say no. Perfectionism in many respects is unachievable, and in many respects adds extra pressure. Build from small steps that are manageable and adjustable.

If your health is impacting on your day to day activities and you are not sleeping, waking early and struggling with routine tasks and commitments, it is sensible to speak with your line manager, so work tasks be can be reviewed. Your line manager should be supportive and they have a duty of care, although they need to know how you are feeling so change can be made.

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 ill 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 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 ill (take out ill and use the world 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.

A brief look into a manager’s role in fostering positve mental wellbeing in the workplace

An EU Labour Force Survey found that nearly 10 million working days are lost due to stress, anxiety and depression, at an estimated cost to businesses of £13 billion per year through loss of productivity and sickness pay [1].

The Trade Union Congress (TUC) says that, in the UK on average, an employee becomes ill through work-related stress every 2 minutes [2].  Symptoms of which can become apparent both through physical and mental attributes.

For many, working environment has a huge affect on mental wellbeing.  If an element of negativity exists between an employee and manager, either through an abusive or neglectful relationship, this can have a lasting and deep impact on an employee and the business as a whole.

Increasing research throughout the last few years has made evident that strong and reliant leadership is crucial in sustaining positive mental wellbeing in the workforce.  The practical application of which revolves around:

  • developing a supportive organisational workplace culture that values respect and open dialogue
  • managers seen to be leading by example
  • proactively managing potential issues in a considerate and responsible manner, through regular team consultations where participation is encouraged.
  • as well, offering personal chats in a relaxed environment where a manager can get a sense of the individual and what motivates them both in terms of career development and their day-to-day life
  • managing conflict through seeking any necessary advice, from HR and/or Occupational Health

The more an employee feels valued and supported by their manager, the more confident they will feel in managing their workload, relationships with colleagues, and general work/life day-to-day balance.  They are also more likely to feel comfortable in approaching their manager if an issue does arise, knowing that that they will be treated with consideration and respect.


[1] Labour Force Survey | Eurostat

[2] Every 2 Minutes a Worker is Made Ill Through Stress at Work | TUC

Book: How to Look After Yourself When Your Feeling Depressed

A Little Book of Encouragement by Alice Rosewell

PUBLISHED BY THE CHOIR PRESS, 2016

Over recent years great strides have been made to increase awareness of mental health issues, including anxiety and depression, which are two of the most common.  In Britain alone, 9% of people meet the criteria for a diagnosis of anxiety and depression, with it being estimated that between 4 and 10% of people will experience some form of the illnesses during their lifetime [1].

Despite this awareness, however, depression is a very individualised experience, which can often leave a person feeling alone and isolated in their suffering.  It is during these seemingly endless hard moments, when talking and being around others all seems a little too much, that books can often offer an unexpected solace.

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  • Copyright © 2016 Alice Rosewell

How to Look After Yourself When You’re Feeling Depressed is a short, unintimidating book that offers readers a little encouragement as a reminder to take care of themselves, even when depression is stacking all the odds against them.

It’s a guide to quietly get you through the day, written in small accessible chapters, each often accompanied by a simple and cheerful illustration.  Alice Rosewell, the author, who has suffered from spells of depression throughout her adult life, writes from a place of understanding and compassion.  Recognising that whilst self-care on its own isn’t sufficient to treat severe depression, having someone show an interest and kindness toward you, and that someone being you, can be a positive step in the right direction.

How to Look After Yourself When You’re Feeling Depressed is currently available in paperback or as an ebook from Amazon.


[1] Mental Health Statistics | mentalhealth.org.uk

Do you have what it takes to be a Workplace Challenge Champion?

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What is Workplace Challenge?

Workplace Challenge is a partnership programme with the British Heart Foundation offering a series of training sessions across the UK that delivers a hands on approach to improving health and wellbeing within a workforce.

It encourages a person, or two, within an organisation to adopt the role of workplace challenge champion, and with a full day training session provides them with the “skills, confidence and resources to promote better health and increase participation in sport and physical activity“[1].

Why is promoting health and wellbeing at work important?

Having a healthy workplace environment is both good for mental and physical wellbeing.

The average person spends around 60% of their waking hours at work.

It’s estimated that the annual economic costs to businesses of sickness absence is over £100 billion, with around 23 million working days in the UK lost due to work-related ill health [2].

The benefits of having a healthy and active workplace can lead to improved morale, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism and presenteeism, and increased staff retention.

What does it mean to be a Workplace Champion?

Being a workplace champion might be part of your job permit, or you might simply be keen to promote wellness amongst your colleagues.  The idea is that you are there to support your colleagues in an active lifestyle, organise activities, and be a point of contact if they’re looking for advice on how to increase their activity.

What to expect from Workplace Challenge training:

Workplace Challenge is an interactive workshop, so you are encouraged to come dressed for casual movement.  Throughout the day you are introduced to a number of resources available to businesses specifically designed to promote activity in the workforce, which can be recorded through the Workplace Challenge website.  Sports and activities ranging from tennis to volleyball, from table tennis to running.

The course also provides advice on how to introduce the Workplace Challenge into an organisation, and how to gain support and commitment from both employees and employers.  Information is provided on how to write and submit a business case to senior staff in order to introduce the programme, as well as highlighting case studies of programmes that have already proved successful.

The day is also a great way to meet others who are promoting health and activity in the workplace, and share experiences and ideas of what has worked well so far for yourselves and others.

The cost of the full-day workshop is £50, which includes a Health at Work pack, and lunch & refreshments.


Workplace Challenge Website: http://www.workplacechallenge.org.uk

The website offers news on upcoming events in and around local areas, as well as contact details of local sport organisations and trusts.

There is a great online free activity log, where you can track all your activities and compete in self-set challenges or challenges with colleagues and friends.  And there are prizes and incentives for completing challenges.  As well as some fun little quirks, including a count of how much C02 you’ve saved in being more active.

Workplace Challenge also has an app to go along with the online Activity log, which means you can track your activities on the go.


[1] http://www.workplacechallenge.org.uk/training

[2] http://www.hse.gov.uk/statistics/dayslost.htm