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The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

The Importance of Recovering After a Work Day to Make Employees Happy

Encouraging recovery can make employees happy, create a more productive work environment and ultimately improve staff retention

Want to make your employees happy? Well then it’s important to take two minutes to read this article.. In the last decade the term ‘work-life’ balance has become very popular especially for those talking about ensuring happy employees in the workplace. Everyone strives towards it, are told how important it is, and does their best  to figure out what mechanisms work. There is no one-size-fits-all for all employees though. Calling it work-life balance appears paradoxical, almost like two opposing poles; work is life and life is work. Perhaps it’s about balancing life with its various domains. The term ‘work-life balance’ per se has no standard definition and means different things to different people. So, how do we begin to engage with work-life balance with so many unknown variables?

 

An aspect of work-life balance that I’ll write about, as it’s frequently overlooked or ignored, is the concept of recovery during and after work. Often, we associate recovery as the process of getting healthy after an illness, and link it to the opposite of fatigue or burnout. But we seldom view recovery as a much-needed process during a working day as well as part of recuperating from a full day’s work. Professor Stevan E. Hobfoll, from the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Rush University Medical Center in America defines recovery as the replenishment of mental and physiological resources used for the external demands placed on us.

In a work environment we experience two types of fatigue:

  • Physical fatigue – is associated with hard labour and muscular aches where appropriate rest time during the day is often adequate to rejuvenate the body.
  • Mental fatigue – is linked to cognitive thinking, planning, problem solving and attending meetings. A short rest period, as would be adequate in physical fatigue, is not enough here.

And that is where the challenge begins. We need longer and more frequent breaks in the mental fatigue mode to uphold our stamina and energy, but seldom take the necessary breaks.

Short breaks can lead to more motivated employees a more productive team and a happy workplace.

Furthermore, we are able to distinguish between internal and external recovery. Internal recovery refers to the short, scheduled breaks we take between work tasks to shift our attention or even purposefully distract us. We recognise that our mental stamina is temporarily depleted and we shift tasks, take short breaks, chat with colleagues or engage in a completely different mental activity. The short breaks delay our fatigue but are not enough to recover from the day’s mental fatigue. External recovery provides us with that much-needed rest and restoration time between working days, weekends, pubic holidays and holiday time. Working after hours cancels out our entire recovery time, and we go to work the next day, maybe with a reduced work load and fewer emails in our inbox, but with lower energy, and reduced performance and productivity levels.

Healthy Employees are Happy Employees

From a health point of view, getting enough rest and recovery time reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, sleep problems, fatigue and burnout. That being said, activities that positively influence and assist with the recovery process are sports and physical activities, connecting with friends, performing household activities and caring for your children. The sports and physical activities are shown to have the most significant effect, which is understandable because of the additional adrenalin and happy hormones that we feel afterwards. But there is more to why sports and physical activities win first prize, and that is because our brain can’t engage in the activity and simultaneously ruminate over a work situation. It’s one or the other which is fantastic for our brain to be able to get some forced downtime.

Allowing your employees to get into a rhythm will improve team motivation and employee happiness.

The final thing that I want to write about is the relevance of our circadian rhythm, our biological body clock. By nature some of us are early morning risers, while others are night owls and peak later during the day. Working with our biological energy system influences our entire human system from our hormones, body temperature, and sleep patterns, to our insulin and glucose cycle and moods and emotions. In short, it determines when we are physically and psychologically at our best. Unfortunately, working life doesn’t always allow us to work predominantly from our best performance state, and we often have to demonstrate peak performance when our body isn’t in that mode. We’ll need extra energy to think harder, stay alert, pay attention to detail and remain connected with people, with the end result that in the evening our energy is more depleted than normal. Our brains have used up all the energy possible, and we need to engage in additional recovery, rest and restoration time to return to a homeostatic balanced mode. Recommended techniques are for you to engage in down-time practises such as yoga, meditation or reading, and refraining from any stimulating activities.

By now you may have noticed that your recovery processes during the day and after work are actually ongoing. They require your continuous conscious and self-regulated attention. The downside to not recovering enough is that ruminating thoughts, negative emotions, disturbed attention span, fatigue and distorted sleep creep into our lives. Our health and overall well-being levels drop severely. I hope that with this article you are inspired to review and amend, where necessary, your recovery process between work days.

Want to read more about how to make employees happy and motivated? Click Here to find out about 5 Ways to Motivate Employees

References

Hobfoll, S. E. (1989). Conservation of resources: A new attempt at conceptualising stress. American Psychologist, Vol. 44, 513-524.

Zijlstra, F. R., & Sonnentag, S. (2006). After work is done: Psychological perspectives on recovery from work . European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology, Vol. 15(2), 129-138.

Zijlstra, F. R., Cropley, M., & Rydstedt, F. R. (2014). From Recovery to Regulation. An attempt to reconceptualise ‘recovery from work.

Happiness at work. Does it matter?

Happiness at work. Does it matter?

The main goal for many companies is to be profitable and sustainable, and at a push to promote well-being and employee performance. Old business models that exclude employee well-being and happiness are fast becoming outdated and unattractive for stakeholders. Happiness in the workplace is becoming a more popular topic these days and companies can decide when and how they are going to incorporate human well-being into their business strategy. It’s important to remember that the early adopters (Google, Zappers, Virgin and Facebook) have by no means reduced their market share or profitability by incorporating the concept of happiness in the workplace. In fact, it’s quite the opposite!

Humans live for, on average, 700,000 hours and during that time we spend 56,000 hours at work (± 30 years). Millennials, the new work generation born between 2000and 2015, mainly want to be happy at, in and during work. Other generations may not agree with this outlook; however, because Millennials are going to be influencing the work environment for the next 30 to 50 years, it means that we are going to have to embrace and be curious about their outlook on life and work.

What could potentially make us sceptical about the whole happiness concept is that we don’t necessarily understand what it means, how to attain it, maintain it and even if it’s genuinely relevant to business principles. The fact that there are several definitions of happiness doesn’t help the cause. The same argument can be made for work engagement. Various definitions and concepts exist that elaborate what drives engagement. While we are trying to solve the definition challenge, companies are looking for engaged and happy employees, but aren’t sure what or how that looks like.

A Google search in September 2015 of the phrase “happiness at work” came up with 261 million web pages. That shows that the topic is of great interest and that there are obviously many unhappy employees. Furthermore, the World Health Organisation has predicted that by 2020 depression will be the second highest cause of work absenteeism. That’s only three years down the line!

With up to a quarter of employees suffering from stress because of their work, it is obvious that our current work-life model is heading in an undesirable direction. The scientific field of Positive Psychology offers answers to our downward unhappiness spiral. The principle of Positive Psychology is that it focuses on what works well and what we can do to improve our happiness level with the purpose of enabling individuals, groups and institutions to thrive and operate at an optimal level. The goal of Positive Psychology is to look and explore the other side of the coin.

The term “Positive Psychology” is often interpreted with scepticism and associated with a new spiritual philosophy that is promoted through endless self-help tips and quick fixes. Exploring its roots, one can see that it is a strand of the traditional psychology which ensures that it undergoes the same amount of scientific rigour and evidence-based testing for it to be associated to psychology. Psychology’s primary mission is to improve people’s quality of life and to cure mental illnesses. Positive Psychology focuses strongly on improving people’s quality of life.

Let’s explore why happiness in the workplace matters and for whose benefit. Positive Organisation Behaviour has five components:

Self-efficacy          Believing in one’s own abilities results in making positive choices, being motivated, trying harder                                      through persistence, thinking positively and being resistant to stress.

Hope                        A motivational state that through willpower and determination achieves objectives and goals.

Optimism              A mindset perspective wherein people trust that everything happens for a positive and good                                               reason.

Happiness             Individual well-being or happiness shows that happy people are more satisfied with their work.

Emotional             Is extremely useful at work as it enables one to recognise, manage and regulate one’s own             Intelligence          emotions and those of others.

These components are desirable in all employees and even more so during times of organisational change and transformation. The negative components can spiral very fast and companies may miss the fact that there are “sick” characteristics that hinder change, growth, performance and productivity which limit its ability to achieve its desired business objectives. Meta-analysis and studies conducted over the past ten years demonstrate that happy employees and positive organisational behaviour contribute between 13% and 25% of the organisation’s bottom line.

Combining positive happy workers with positive organisational behaviour has a substantial impact on both the worker as well as the organisation’s performance and business results. These results have a far wider and deeper reach than material resources, state of the art systems or business models.

References:

Moccia, S. (2016). Happiness At Work. Psychologist Papers, Vol. 37(2), 143-151.

Unpacking the term “engagement”

Unpacking the term “engagement”

Over the past few years the buzzword in organisational language has been “engagement”. Global statistics have shown that an average of 18% of employees are engaged with 65% of them not engaged and 25% actively disengaged. The figures for South Africa are lower, with engaged employees at around 12%.

We hear that engagement leads to job performance, job satisfaction and organisational competitive advantages; something that both individuals and institutions strive towards. That being said, we may not be appreciating the complexity of engagement, and are unsure how to change disengaged employees to engaged ones or alternatively sustain engaged employees.

In 1990 William A. Kahn originally defined engagement as a unique and important motivational concept that harnesses one’s full self in terms of cognitive, physical and emotional energies to perform work tasks. The three terms seem obvious, but it’s the combination that makes it an intertwined aspect.

Let’s review each of these energies in detail.

Engaged employees are psychologically fully present, attentive, feel connected, integrated and engrossed with their tasks and performance.

Cognitive and psychological engagement

Cognitive engagement or job involvement is the degree to which an employee relates and identifies with a job to the extent that they think about their work tasks and challenges outside of their physical working hours. Job involvement is influenced by the company’s characteristics such as safety, environment, protocol, policies and leadership styles. Cognitively engaged employees identify strongly with their work and view work situations as opportunities to become actively involved.

Physical engagement speaks directly to taking action and being intrinsically motivated. What dampens this motivation energy is external constraints, contingencies, freedom of choice or control. Competence, autonomy and relatedness foster motivation, effort and persistence to act and perform.

Emotional engagement is associated with the human desire to fulfil subjective psychological needs and values. As an example, we strive for job satisfaction which is a positive state of pleasure. Receiving positive feedback provides inner satisfaction which results in the willingness to contribute further in the company’s effectiveness and efficiency. Job satisfaction is influenced by the person’s job characteristics, leaders and co-workers and one’s personality.

Engagement means that employees bring all three, the cognitive, emotional and physical aspects to their work. In other words, they bring their complete selves, their heart, hands and head to their tasks, company and team. The crux is that engagement means working with all three simultaneously and not in an isolated, fragmented manner.

Training your brain for happiness

Training your brain for happiness

Happiness is a concept, a feeling and an inner state that we wish for others and for ourselves. When parents are asked what they’d like for their kids, the answer is always “For them to be happy with their life”. When we write cards for birthdays or other special occasions such as weddings, we bestow happiness on the person or couple.

Happiness is an exceptionally important ingredient in our life, and often we don’t take it seriously. How many times have you said “Just be Happy” without consciously registering what that involves?

Every human being wants to be happy – it’s something we all share; a golden thread that runs through our collective lives which connects us. For some, it is more conscious than for others, and can even be an elusive idea, another fallacy, or even a trend.

Positive Psychology, the study of human well-being and flourishing, has helped to take this topic and transpose it into a tangible, robust science that is empirical, measurable, noticeable, repetitive and valid. The words well-being and happiness are often seen as one and the same concepts even if they are not, but for the sake of this article we’ll turn a blind eye.

For a moment let’s consider the relationship between Neuroscience and Positive Psychology. Neuroscience is the scientific study of the nervous system and brain activities on a cellular and molecular level. We can’t physically see the brain working during the day, except if we were wired to a brain image scanner. However, we can feel how our brain’s state impacts on our thoughts, actions and behaviour. Brain imaging has given us the opportunity to observe the internal structure of the brain, and to see what sections in the brain are activated through activities or emotions. This technological advancement has helped us to understand where happiness is located in the brain.

The neuroscience behind happiness

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It’s incredible to think that true happiness has an actual place in the brain, and by identifying the brain-happiness area, experiments have been conducted that determine what neuro-pathways stimulate and lead to increased happiness.

When people are in a state of happiness, their prefrontal cortex (located in the forehead and responsible for allowing us to think, make decisions, focus, and attain goals) is noticeably more active. Another commonly-used name for the prefrontal cortex is the Executive brain which takes up a huge amount of energy. Besides allowing us to think, it has another important function of regulating our emotions and assisting us to recover from negative thoughts and emotions. If we learn to train our brain, we can indirectly influence our psychological and emotional well-being, also known as our level of happiness.

There are a few ways to train your brain to be happy, without the use of chemical substances.

Meditation – ten minutes of quietening the mind stimulates the prefrontal cortex and provides feelings of joy, calmness, serenity and well-being. These are ten powerful minutes in which you can empty the thoughts from your head.

Loving kindness meditation (LKM) – is a meditation where you intentionally send love, kindness, protection and well-being to your loved ones as well as to yourself. It’s a visual image where you consciously see the loved one in-front of you and then send them abundant love. It sounds strange, but if we’re honest, we do this naturally to the people we care about and love.

Gratitude awareness – taking a couple of minutes to become aware of who and what we are grateful for in the day. This can be gratitude for people, situations or events, and observing the beauty of our surroundings, relationships and life. You can have fun here and write this down in a journal, take a snapshot of it, draw it, sing it, dance it or just think it.

Strengths mindfulness – reflecting over the day and listing strengths that you applied that day. Again, it’s a conscious decision to focus on what inner strengths you used during the day in certain situations without being mindless. This can be varied from being patient and kind to an infuriated colleague, to using humour or empathy in a tough situation.

The benefit of training your brain to be happier leads to a more productive and focused mind as well as becoming happier. It’s in your control and your choice to pursue happiness in your life. Contact us for more information about crafting your happiness.