How To Improve Your Wellbeing at Work in 2022

People Enjoying Work and Positive Wellbeing at Work

Workplace wellbeing has been a hot topic over the last few years and the changes brought to our lives and working practices by the Covid pandemic have further increased the spotlight on how the way we work can impact on our overall wellbeing.

We spend a huge proportion of our lives at work, so it’s unsurprising that our experiences at work have such a big impact on our lives. There’s a very close correlation for many people between what we may think of as being workplace wellbeing, and whether or not we feel we’ve got a good work life balance.

Fundamentally, having a good work life balance and having a good sense of wellbeing both tend to come down to how happy you feel not just about the amount of time you spend at work, but about how that time spent working makes you feel overall.

If you’re happy and enjoying your work, if it feels satisfying, gives you a sense of purpose and is not impinging on your life because of stress, anxiety or the time it’s taking to complete, your work life balance will feel good. In fact, your work may actually be positively impacting on your wellbeing.

If, on the other hand, something about your work is making you feel unhappy, stressed or anxious, or the amount of time or energy you’re having to devote to it is leaving you feeling exhausted or unhappy with life, then your work life balance – and wellbeing – will feel poor.

And it may not just feel poor, the way you work could actually be seriously harming your mental health, your physical health, or both. For example, research undertaken in the UK in 2011, showed that employees who work more than 55 hours per week are at higher risk of developing coronary heart disease or having a stroke, and have a 1.66 times higher risk of depression, and a 1.74 times higher risk for anxiety, compared with those working 35-40 hours a week.

When it comes to work-related wellbeing and work life balance, the key issues I hear about most often are unreasonably high workloads, long working hours, struggling with a large amount of responsibility, difficult relationships with colleagues, demanding managers and having unclear expectations.

There are countless training courses, consultants and programmes helping organisations to make changes that will improve the wellbeing of their workers. This is undoubtedly a good thing: the fewer employers that think they are making a shift in their employees wellbeing by providing chocolate, biscuits and at-desk massages the better!

This blog post is aimed at helping you, as an individual – whether you’re an employee or self-employed – to do what you can by yourself to improve your work-related wellbeing. Because most of what helps are actually things within your own control. And this is good news – it means you can make changes that will prevent poor wellbeing wherever you are working, now or in future (even if your employer does nothing, or your boss continues to think that cakes to say thank you on Friday is what will make the wellbeing difference).

 

Here are eight things to do to improve your wellbeing at work

1. Get Clear Direction

Ever spend time worrying about whether what you’re doing is what your manager is hoping for, overthinking how to present something or spending huge amounts of time on a task in case you’ve missed the key element someone else wanted?

Or does work seep mentally into your evenings as you regularly go over and over something in your mind: what if you’ve not done the right thing, what if someone doesn’t like how that task turned out, what if your manager or client thinks your work isn’t up to scratch?

When you have clear, specific information about what is required of you, you don’t need to do any of these things. The overthinking and overworking often happens because you’re having to guess what’s required of you to one degree or another.

This can happen at task level (what does he want this to look like when it’s finished?) or role responsibility level (should I be doing this by myself? what’s an acceptable level of detail to know about this kind of thing in a meeting?).

We are not mind readers. So, if you find yourself having to make assumptions or guess, stop, and get what you need by asking for clearer information or direction. For example: what will good look like? What would not good enough be like? What is a must have, and what is ideal, but not essential?

2. Take Regular Breaks

High performance athletes know they need rest days to ensure their bodies remain in optimum condition. And your brain is no different: the more tired you are, the more effort it takes to perform at the level you need to, and the harder your brain has to work just to do the basics.

It’s easy to create a logic that says if you don’t take a break, you’ll get through more work because you’re spending more time working, and that will allow you to finish sooner.

If that’s your logic: How’s that working for you?

The actual logic is that taking a break recharges your brain so you can work more efficiently. Although you may spend fewer minutes working, you will be able to be more productive with that time, finishing tasks more quickly.

Taking breaks during the day is therefore essential. Getting some fresh air around lunchtime is particularly helpful: the daylight helps your body set the kind of clock it needs to produce sleep-inducing melatonin at the right time to get enough sleep, and just 20 minutes in green space, if you can find it, has been shown to lower stress levels significantly.

As is taking time off regularly throughout the working year for a proper break. Breaks and time off are not something you earn, and shouldn’t be something you feel you can do only when you’ve done enough work to deserve it. Breaks are essential for preventing stress, exhaustion and burnout, and for maintaining productivity and high performance.

3. Set Appropriate Work-Life Boundaries

Boundaries don’t magically appear – you have to consciously decide what boundaries are reasonable and will work for you. Not setting boundaries means you have no way of knowing when to stop or to say no, and others have no way of knowing it’s not OK to ask. So they will keep asking. And you will keep taking more work on, or working longer hours than you want to.

Examples of boundaries include:

Time boundaries.

That is, the times of your working day and working week. When is the earliest you are prepared to start your working day? When is the latest you are willing to finish? How many days per week do you work? Are you willing to work at weekends? Or in the evenings? How many evenings?

Availability boundaries

Just because you don’t have a meeting or specific commitment at a given time, doesn’t mean you are available to others or for any old thing. It’s reasonable to put boundaries around time in your day so that you can get particular tasks done, or to have a proper lunch break.

Ring-fencing time in your work calendar for specific things can help others see where your boundaries are, as well as reminding you that it’s important to hold that time. If you don’t want others to know what you’re holding time for, or you know a particular colleague will try and tread all over it if it’s “just a lunchbreak”, don’t forget that you can set appointments to private mode so nobody actually knows what the slot is for.

Physical boundaries

Remote working can be brilliant for flexibility and work life balance. It can also make separating home and work even harder, leading easily to your work creeping into your intended down time.

Creating a separate space for work can help: it makes it harder to unconsciously pick up work, and easier to mentally switch off and leave it behind. You’ll find several tips here about creating boundaries when you work from home.

You might also consider having separate work and personal phones, so that you aren’t tempted to pick up emails or messages out of hours. If it’s possible to successfully run a £50m business without receiving emails or texts during evenings and weekends (it is, I’ve done it), then why wouldn’t you put that kind of boundary in place and give yourself some headspace away from work?!

4. Practice Saying No

Being able to say no is essential if you’re going to stick to the boundaries you’ve set yourself. It’s also vital if you aren’t going to take on more work than you can manage: I’ve lost count of the number of people I’ve coached whose workload is unmanageable in large part because their to-do list is full of things that are actually other people’s responsibilities!

Being able to say no doesn’t mean you always have to say no. It won’t change you from a person who likes to be helpful into someone unhelpful. It simply means taking responsibility for what you do and don’t agree to do, in the name of your own wellbeing.

If you fear letting others down, or disappointing people, here are some ways to say no, in the name of your boundaries, workload, wellbeing and work life balance, that might be a bit easier than simply barking “No, I won’t!”:

  • I’d like to help with that, but I can’t do it now. Could we do it later/another time/next week/next month?
  • I’m so sorry, I’d love to, but I can’t.
  • I don’t do meetings after 4pm/before 9am/at weekends.
  • I’m not responsible for xxx – I’d usually help if I can, but I don’t have the time to help out with it at the moment, sorry.

Remember, you don’t have to decide on the spot whether or not you will do something or go to something. Buy yourself some time to decide on a helpful way to respond by letting the other person know you’ll check your calendar to see what’s possible and come back to them later.

5. Tackle Your Imposter Syndrome 

Feeling like someone is about to find out that you don’t really know what you’re doing and aren’t as good at your job as they think you are is a classic sign you’re experiencing Imposter Syndrome.

When this feeling strikes (and it does strike, at least sometimes, for the majority of high-achievers), the anxiety it brings, which may be bad enough in itself to cause you sleepless nights, often leads you to do things in the name of protecting yourself, that can make your wellbeing and work life balance suffer. Things like:

  • taking lots of time working extra hard on details
  • adding to your workload by not delegating things
  • creating stress for yourself by putting things off and then having to bust a gut when you reach the deadline to do it
  • not wanting to risk asking for help, making what you are doing harder, more stressful and longer
  • not wanting to say no to your manager in case they think it’s because you can’t do it, and adding to your workload unnecessarily as a result
  • not taking on opportunities and then feeling really frustrated and unsatisfied.

You’ll find tips on overcoming Imposter Syndrome here.

6. Ask For Help When You Need It

Don’t struggle on alone with things that aren’t working well, or when you’re going round in circles. Apart from feeling increasingly anxious as we discover we’re not getting anywhere, it adds to our workload and removes the opportunity to get on with other things that will make us feel more satisfied.

It’s not a weakness to ask for help – other people usually love to be asked to help – in fact, helping people is one of the things that is most likely to bring people true happiness.

There are lots of different kinds of help you might get for yourself: Practical support, training or advice; Finding out different ways of achieving something to discover a way that works with your strengths; getting information you don’t have or finding out about things you don’t know how to do, that others might.

And there are also lots of different people you could approach to help you. If asking your boss feels risky, or asking a colleague isn’t possible, why not reach out to someone else in your network, talk it through with a friend, or find an expert who might be able to help through training, consultancy or coaching.

7. Focus On One Thing At A Time

Multi-tasking is, all things considered, essentially a myth.

Juggling several tasks at once actually means switching time and time again between the tasks you’re doing “at once”. And every time you switch between tasks, your brain takes time to process the change and adjust back into the task you’re doing.  Which means each task takes longer to do than if you’d done them separately.

Tips for remaining focused on one thing at a time:

  • Block time into your diary for specific tasks that require focus and more time than you’d usually have available in one stretch, or when you have a deadline to meet.
  • Switch off your email, Teams and phone notifications while you’re not using them, to avoid being distracted by them.
  • If you like having sound in the background while you work, if you’re working with words, try instrumental music instead of songs or radio so one set of words doesn’t distract from the other
  • Work in short blocks of time – 20 to 40 minutes – and then take a break. You can block together short tasks of a similar nature for one of these blocks.
  • Set up a physical boundary when you don’t want to be interrupted, that others can see: close the door or put a sign on your desk.

8. Get To Know Your Colleagues

Developing personal connections with your colleagues takes more effort in these times of remote-working, but actually getting to know the people you work with and forming friendships can have a significant impact on your wellbeing.

Not only does having this more personal connection with our co-workers make going to work more enjoyable, it increases the amount of recognition you get (which is essential for us to truly thrive as human beings) and has also been shown, by Gallup and Google among others, to improve team results. Better achievement often means greater satisfaction and fulfilment too – not to mention being great for your career progress!

 

I’m Jo Lee, the No Stress Success Coach. I help ambitious and able but over-stretched people achieve the successful, enjoyable work life they want, without the stress, self-doubt and exhaustion they don’t. I help you make changes that mean you control your work rather than it controlling you, so you’re able to switch off, worry less, sleep better, work less and live more. So you feel balanced, not burned out. 

I offer stress management coaching,  work life balance coaching and career success coaching via Zoom, or in person in North Leicestershire.

If anything in this blog post resonates with you, and you’d like to find out more about how coaching works to help you manage stress, improve your work life balance and wellbeing or overcome Imposter Syndrome or what coaching with me might be like, please get in touch for an informal chat or to arrange a free initial consultation,

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