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 Behavioural 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, public 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 workload 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. 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 downtime 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 workdays.
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.