This summer we at HappyMaven examine the importance of embracing leisure time for improving and maintaining employee health and wellbeing.
Toxic working patterns
“Hustle culture” was praised for a long time, with a “rise and grind” mentality that became idolised, particularly amongst millennials. However recently, the potential toxicity of this way of working is under the spotlight, with the pressure to always be productive giving rise to feelings of burnout and inadequacy. Hustle culture can be understood as a fast-paced environment that feeds off long working hours and a restless sense of striving for some type of goal - career or otherwise. The pressure to always be busy, to be delivering, to always be making money and proving it, has been exacerbated with social media, spreading the toxic and unachievable culture like wildfire. With cases of burnout surging, especially among those working from home, it’s vital that employees know exactly how to use their downtime effectively, to engage in meaningful activities to relieve tension and stress, and simply enjoy the fruits of their hard labour.
'The quality of your leisure time isn’t measured by the longevity of your activity, but by the meaning you give to it.'
Leona Brits, Writer
For many, leisure is like a mirage: you can see it, far far away, but you can’t reach it. In cases of burnout, our bodies dictate that rest is needed, before our minds, resulting in physical manifestations of burnout. Signs of this include physical exhaustion and illness, mood swings, anger, or apathy. Watch HappyMaven’s short video about recognising and avoiding burnout here. Most of the time, small lifestyle changes will be enough to alleviate the mind and body of these symptoms. While there is no hard and fast rule prescribing how much leisure time should be taken, with all companies enforcing different policies - including unlimited holiday in some cases, it’s important to listen to the physical and mental signs considering each and everyone’s unique needs. That being said, the quality of leisure time is not determined by its duration so it’s important to consider what activities will help in quality relaxation and recovery.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports in a CDC publication that stress levels at work are higher than ever and that "health care expenditures are nearly 50% greater for workers who report high levels of stress." Therefore it’s in the interest of employers to ensure that employees are adequately rested and dedicate time to engage in leisure for the quality of their work, their wellbeing, as well as physical health which is strongly linked to stress. Reinforcing the importance of taking breaks from work is extremely important in helping employees with their stress levels and emotional equilibrium. Whilst in the office, a coffee break with colleagues is the norm, however 20 minutes away from the laptop at home can be an anxiety-inducing experience, fearing your status changing from ‘active’ to an ambiguous ‘away’ and the repercussions this could have. Remote workers ‘presenteeism’ is a relatively new phenomenon, where despite the sharp increase in homeworking and perceived flexibility benefits as a result of the pandemic lockdown and changed working patterns, more than three quarters (77%) of employers have observed ‘presenteeism’ – people working when unwell (mentally or physically) – in employees who are working from home in the last year, according to the CIPD/Simplyhealth Health and Wellbeing at Work survey report.
Start with the body
During working hours, remembering to stay physically active is important for both physical and mental health. Along with taking breaks, moving your body regularly is vital for long-term physical health. Studies have shown that being sedentary (being seated for long periods of time) can compromise metabolic health and increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Being sedentary is a separate issue from having too little exercise. So regular, unstrenuous movement, as well as higher intensity physical exercise are both important ingredients in maintaining good mental and physical health.
Take care of the mind
So aside from the physical aspects of staying active, how can employees meaningfully engage in rest and leisure time? Contrary to what ‘Hustle Culture’ would have people believe, all work and no play reduces focus and productivity. Research from Cass Business School, compared people in similar jobs and education levels, and found they were more likely to suffer poorer wellbeing and inferior career prospects, including satisfaction, security and promotion, when they worked at an intense level for long periods. It is crucial for employees to take restorative breaks throughout the working day for remaining creative and productive, and also helps to build a resilient mindset in the face of stressful conditions, according to Sabinne Sonnentag from Mannheim University. Engagement in enjoyable activities is positively correlated with higher levels of positive psychosocial states and lower levels of depression, according to this study from Psychosomatic Medicine Journal.
Being aware of physical and mental signs, taking regular breaks, and moving more are all simple ways to positively impact wellbeing and health. For some, rejecting hustle culture feels like a mental challenge to overcome, for fear of judgement or falling behind, however it's important to remember that ‘hustle culture’ is just a palatable rebrand of the term ‘workaholic’ which has connotations of addiction and negative effects on personal wellbeing. Breaking out of a fixed routine may seem daunting, however this report in Psychology Today says that “routine may make us feel more secure or unchallenged, muting some of our fears around uncertainty. However, it may also be closing us off to our sense of awe, curiosity, or excitement.” Therefore breaking the routine of work and embracing the antidote, ‘slowness’ will enable clarity, giving time to harness and understand emotions, and ultimately free the mind to absorb information to make better, more informed decisions.
Leisure time inspiration
Some great ways to slow down, engage in leisure time, reconnect with your mind and body and essentially create your own version of joy include:
- Become a tourist in your own town and discover somewhere new
- Create and nurture a ‘gardening patch’ whether that’s in a garden or in a window box
- Have a duvet day with popcorn, movies and pizza
- Blow the dust off cookery books and choose a few ambitious recipes to create for family and friends
- Start to get through your summer reading list
- Go for a walk in nature - test your photography skills on flowers, berries, insects and animals as subjects
- Start a creative project such as drawing, painting, collage, scrapbooking.
- FaceTime or Skype with a friend or family member you don't normally see! Listening to others can be a great way to disconnect from your own mind and responsibilities
- Channel Marie Kondo - Organise a cluttered area of your home, such as your closet or your junk drawers. It’s cathartic and sometimes fun going through your belongings and paring down to only those that you need and use.
- Create family Quizzes after dinner together! Great way to learn new facts and possibly win a pub quiz in the future! What about TV or movie theme tunes or famous faces from the past?
After all, “time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted” - John Lennon.
This summer, HappyMaven is running a workshop on how to effectively use leisure time to have a beneficial impact on wellbeing. To give employees inspiration, unique ideas and positive reinforcement of taking a break to rest and rejuvenate, get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange a workshop for your team.
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