Employee engagement can really suffer from bad workplace habits such as a working through lunches, staying late and continuing to work out of office hours. There’s a lot of confusion between busy staff and employees that are productive. This idea has been heightened by economic uncertainty, which can push employees to look as though they’re doing more than their colleagues by staying later, to make sure they keep their job. A spring clean of bad workplace habits means employees won’t just reap the benefits – employers will benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce too.
The cc’d conundrum
We’ve all been there: you send an email that needs a quick response, but you don’t get a reply until half nine in the evening. What should you encourage your employees to do? Reply, or wait until the next day? If you do the former, are your staff ever switching off from work and getting some rest?
What may seem trivial has been dragged into the courts, with French workers winning a legal right to not check work emails out of hours, citing the always-on culture with smartphones, and having a right to disconnect from work. The idea of ‘work-life balance’ is a hot topic in office culture. The Mental Health Foundation refers to an uneven work-life balance as the “biggest and most pressing challenge to the mental health of the general population”, with one-third of those surveyed saying that they are either unhappy or very unhappy about the time they devote to work.
Checking emails doesn’t just affect employees’ mental health. A study into health effects of working from home found that checking your work email at home, or taking a call from the boss on weekends, can lead to psychological, gastrointestinal, and cardiovascular problems.
If you’re a business, how do you encourage workers not to check their emails once the office doors have closed? It all comes back to your company culture – is there an expectation for staff to respond to emails whatever the hour? If so, communicate clearly to your employees what is expected out of the office, and cite the reasons for not feeling obliged to check emails, such as burnout and a better work-life balance. It’s also important that business leaders make this change themselves by avoiding unnecessary emails late at night to lead by example.
Will everyone stop checking their emails out of work? It’s hard to say, as smartphones and tech flexibility have changed working culture forever – but it’s still beneficial to point out the potentially harmful health implications and to set clear expectations.
Don’t dine al desko
It’s so easy for staff to eat a sandwich at their desk and carry on with their work, but is it having a negative effect on their mental state? We are social creatures, whether people care to admit it or not, and social interaction is crucial to employee wellbeing.
In fact, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that speaking to colleagues is actually productive. So workplace chatter is good in moderation – and part of this can be encouraging staff to just break away from work on their lunch and get to know their colleagues more.
As well as increasing productivity, socialising with colleagues has been shown to reduce stress and blood pressure levels in staff, and can even reverse the effects of negative experiences. And it doesn’t just have to be interaction with colleagues – simply getting away from their desk can have a positive effect on employees’ productivity.
With most offices, a traditional lunch break is split between 12-2pm, so why not encourage your employees to eat lunch together? Whether this is through providing informal breakout spaces or organising a team outing, it can have a big impact. Gallup reports close work friendships boost employee satisfaction by 50%, which will help with staff retention.
It’s still a widely held myth that the longer employees work, the more work they will produce. But is that always the case? Yoshie Komuro, CEO of Tokyo-based company Work Life Balance Co. Ltd, argues that spending more time at work worsens employee output.
And it’s not just Japan that is feeling the effect of overtime. Last year, workers in the UK worked the equivalent of £33.6bn of overtime for free, with over 5 million people working on average an extra 7.7 hours a week unpaid, according to a study for Trades Union Congress.
This extra work not only puts a financial strain on the workforce and demoralises staff, but it can also have drastic health repercussions. The European Heart Journal found that working an extra three or more hours a day shows a 60% increase in heart-related illness such as non-fatal heart attacks.
We’re not saying overtime is always a bad thing – naturally, there will be events or seasons within different industries that may require more attention. However, the expectation to consistently work extra hours needs to be cut out of your company culture for both your business’ and your employees’ sake.
Bad habits are hard to break, but if your business can encourage staff to reduce the overworking mentality, the company will reap the benefits of increased engagement, improved motivation and a happier workforce.
"A spring clean of bad workplace habits means employees wont just reap the benefits employers will benefit from a happier, more engaged workforce too."
Emma Yearwood, Director of HR at Sodexo Engage