In a prior post, I wrote about the importance of employee sustainability, which is the notion that investing in workers’ health and well-being can improve their motivation and commitment to your business. That got me thinking about sustainability for professionals and entrepreneurs, particularly those like me, who have to manage their own work hours.
In many professional jobs, there’s no cap on your work schedule — you can work as many hours as you want, and increasingly, many people do. But at what price? Reminder: Most overworked roads lead straight to burnout because that type of stress isn’t sustainable. In addition, overuse of technology and sedentary working conditions can negatively affect us at work.
Here are a few meaningful considerations when it comes to considering your own sustainability or that of your employees:
I recently read an article that explored the sources of technostress in employees. Technostress occurs when people experience negative effects from technology use. The effects can be physical (eye strain, headaches, neck pain), emotional/psychological (irritability, anxiety), and behavioral (compulsive technology use). This stress can ultimately lead to poor job performance and a reduction in physical well-being.
It’s no surprise that technostress is on the rise as we have more technology than ever in our everyday work and personal lives. So what can we do to reduce it? First, technostress is lowest when technology is seen as useful, so limiting non-useful technology can help. Even if we enjoy scrolling on social media apps, perhaps it’s worth recognizing the toll it may take on us.
Second, limit the use of work technology during off hours. If you’re in the habit of checking and sending work emails on evenings and weekends, this may be adding to your stress. Some organizations have even introduced policies to restrict after-hours work to try to reduce employees’ technostress.
This can be a huge challenge for many, but recognize that unplugging for short times can actually make you more productive in the long run. And if you’re the boss, you can set a positive example for others in your organization by limiting your after-hours emails and texts.
Reduced Working Hours
You may have seen recent news reports about different organizations experiencing positive results from implementing 4-day work weeks. Experiments with reduced work hours show that people can actually produce the same amount of work in a reduced time because they are more focused, more energized, and take fewer breaks. In a nutshell, they work smarter, not harder.
I have found this to be the case for me personally. Before I had children, my work time was somewhat unlimited, and I worked a lot of hours. But when I had kids and wanted to be home more with them, I worked with a stronger sense of urgency during my hours in the office, often accomplishing much more than expected because of this new constrained timeline. As Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.”
While this certainly won’t work in all professions, if you’re a professional with flexible hours, it’s worth considering how you spend your time. First, can you time your work to align with your personal energy level? I have the most energy and attention for complex tasks early in the morning, so I try to tackle those types of tasks first thing rather than at 3 p.m. when concentration is harder for me.
Second, think about how to manage your breaks, your days off, and the days you work from home. Recent advice indicates that Wednesday may be a better day to take off or work from home than a Monday or Friday. A mid-week break allows you to recharge and face the last two workdays of the week with renewed energy. Whether you can do this depends on your own work week and rhythms; I have found that taking Thursday mornings off, then working from home the rest of the day, suits my schedule well and keeps me energized for teaching Friday classes.
Standing at Work
People who work in retail, manufacturing, or similar jobs are constantly on their feet at work, and that can have negative physical consequences. However, for those of us who primarily work in front of a computer or sit at a desk all day, constant sitting can be problematic, too. Reports from places like the Mayo Clinic indicate that sitting all day can be as disastrous to your health as smoking.
One solution for those in sedentary jobs is to take frequent breaks from sitting — set an alarm as a reminder to get up every hour and walk around. This can help with attention and focus as well. I would also suggest looking into my personal favorite solution: a standing desk (as can be seen in the picture below). At first, I balked at the price but I quickly realized that the investment in this furniture reduced what I spent on physical therapy and massage to treat my aggravated neck and shoulders. There are a variety of desks that allow you to alternate between sitting and standing, and I can’t recommend this investment enough. There are also anti-fatigue mats you can use to take the pressure off your feet.
What do you do to sustain yourself as a professional employee?