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Given the pressures of living and working through a pandemic, many will be looking forward to a well-deserved Christmas break to rest and re-energise. But has the switch to homeworking had an impact on our ability to truly switch off from work? And what proactive steps can we all take to ensure our health and wellbeing don’t suffer this festive holiday? Read on to find out the latest from the Occupational Healthcare experts at YourGP.
Our ‘Always on’ culture
The switch to home working was a welcome one for many people. It spelled the end of the daily commute and has given some people greater flexibility to fit their work around their home life. For others, however, it has blurred the distinction between home life and work life.
It is so easy to check work emails these days – they can be literally just a click away on your phone (which is usually constantly within reach!) For some, it has become a habit to check emails after hours, reading and replying to them even when they aren’t urgent, just to try to get ahead the next day. Sadly though, this can often interfere with times of rest and can often trigger a train of thought about work that then impacts on your ability to fully unwind, which in turn has the potential to lead to burn-out.
The burn-out is real
In 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) included ‘burn-out’ in its International Classification of Diseases. Whilst not a medical condition, it referred to burn-out as an ‘Occupational phenomenon’ caused by ‘Chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. WHO identifies three key characteristics of burn-out:
• Feelings of exhaustion
• Increased mental distance from one’s job or feeling negative or cynical
• Reduced professional efficacy
Why it pays to switch off
It is in everyone’s best interests to enjoy a break from work. Less time thinking and worrying about work means more time to enjoy quality time with friends and family which can boost our sense of wellbeing, and to devote to hobbies which can aid positive mental health. For this reason, employers should be proactively encouraging their team to switch off over Christmas. Afterall, they will be more likely to be rewarded in the New Year with a team that returns to work feeling well-rested and re-energised, and therefore more motivated and productive.
Progress in Portugal
Portugal recently made the headlines by introducing new ‘right to rest’ laws that effectively ban bosses from emailing and text messaging staff out of working hours. Companies with more than 10 staff could now face fines if they contact employees outside their contracted hours. The aim is to improve workers’ work-life balance in response to the increase in working from home.
How to break the habit
• Plan ahead: Prioritise any tasks that need completed before the Christmas holidays and make a list of non-urgent things that can wait until your return.
• Mark the end of work time: When finishing up for the holidays, do something that marks the end of the working day. Pack away your laptop and diary, change your clothes, stretch, go for a walk – anything to create that sense of completion and separation.
• Create distance with work: When enjoying time with family or just relaxing in the evening, put your phone on charge on the other side of the room so you won’t be tempted to check emails.
• Set yourself boundaries: If there is work that absolutely must be done during the Christmas holidays, set yourself a clear time schedule to complete the work and ‘clock off’ once it’s finished.
Think of others
It may be tempting to try and get ahead at work before returning in the New Year by sending emails. But even if the subject line is marked, ‘Non-urgent: For attention after the holidays!’ there is a real chance the recipient will open and read the content. Instead, draft the emails if you must, but schedule them to arrive after the Christmas break.
Finally, when catching up with friends and family over the Christmas holidays, we often naturally enquire ‘How’s work?’. However, if you really want to keep thoughts of work at bay so you can all fully immerse yourself in festive fun, declare work a no-go subject of conversation!
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