We spend a third of our lives at work so it’s unsurprising that what we do at work has a huge impact on our health. 82% of business costs are spent on salaries, so employers are also becoming more aware of the importance of well-being. After all, healthy employees are more engaged and take less sick leave. And these could be key in developing a high performance organisation.
Our work world is changing. Advancements in technology mean that we can now work anywhere, at anytime. In an always ‘on’ world, it is becoming harder and harder to disconnect. The transition between work and home is becoming increasing blurred, with traditional 7 or 8hr “working days” no longer the norm. There have also been changes in the physical demands of work. An increased reliance on computers have led to many being employed in sedentary jobs. Occupations which involve moderately intense physical activities have decreased from 48% in 1960 to 20% in 2008. And our always ‘on’ world isn’t helping, with an increase in stress and mental health issues seemingly correlating. With 80% of workers in the US reporting feeling stress on the job1, leading health agencies such as the World Health Organisation, identify the workplace as a key place to fight lifestyle diseases. At Lendlease we believe that an aspiration for future workplaces is to create a work place where employees leave work healthier than when they arrive. A health and wellbeing framework helps to coordinate efforts and focus actions. Lendlease’s framework includes Healthy Minds, Healthy Bodies, Healthy Places and Healthy Culture, driven by leadership which fosters wellness. Leadership and culture are the most critical element. Research has shown that energy is not an infinite resource and optimum performance needs regular renewal. So managing energy is a key element to avoid fatigue and burnout, and help us thrive in both our personal and working lives. Stress for example, which we mentioned earlier, isn’t necessarily always bad. In many situations, it can help get things done. But chronic stress will have an impact and this is where recovery is crucial in maintaining a healthy balance.
Seminal studies of elite athletes suggest that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is required for mastery. More interesting is the fact that the top performer in this study slept 1 hour and 45 minutes longer than the average performing athlete (8hr 36 mins vs. 6hr 51 mins2), proving that deliberate practice alongside rest has an impact on performance. And it’s not just in the world of athletics that this has been proven. ‘Desk- Time’ a software company reviewed their top 10% most productive employees. The results revealed that the best performers worked for 52 minutes and then took a 17 minute break3. I wonder how many of us currently work in this way? It’s obvious that rest is important. Because rest allows recovery, and quality recovery ensures better wellbeing. New technologies can now provide insights which were previously impossible outside medical facilities. The Firstbeat4 biofeedback monitor is a great example of new technology that was initially developed for elite sports to ensure athletes adequately recovered but now can be used in the workplace to help ‘corporate athletes’ (you and me). At Lendlease we saw this as an ideal opportunity to collect data which would give us greater insight into how people work and what effects recovery.
We give a Firstbeat biofeedback monitor to all volunteers. The monitor is worn for two to three days at work and sometimes even on a weekend day. The monitor records every heartbeat, and the time between beats in milliseconds. This is then uploaded into the Firstbeat analytics programme. A geographical representation over 24 hours is then generated, displaying physical stress, recovery, heart rate and physical activity. The programme has already collected hundreds of days of data across multiple companies and sectors and we’ve learnt a lot about how people work and some of the factors which aid and hinder recovery:
Everyone is busy
We all lead busy lives, and according to Firstbeat data over 50% of an average 24-hour period involves a stress reaction – an elevated activation in the body, which can be both positive or negative. Recovery is different. People recover at different rates depending on age and fitness.
Timing is everything
Exercise has a significant impact on sleep patterns. The best sleep patterns were observed in people who do physical exercise in the morning. Cardio training after 6pm can cause a reduction in sleep efficacy. But, this isn’t an excuse not to exercise if you miss a morning workout. Any exercise is better than none at all!
Alcohol ruins a good night
More than one alcoholic drink in the evening has shown to reduce recovery during sleep. Sure, you might fall asleep quicker, but the actual recovery which goes on whilst you are asleep is reduced.
Balance is key
Healthy days are made up of many elements; movement, nutrition and sleep.
Action today to improve tomorrow
Change doesn’t need to be an all or nothing approach. Nor does it have to include a dramatic lifestyle change. By doing ‘one thing better tomorrow than did today’ could kick start your journey to better health. Small changes like ensuring adequate sleep, exercising for 30 minutes in the morning – whilst will power is still strong, or opting for a more active commute will all aid better recovery.
Health and wellbeing is step by step, day by day, but awareness alone is not sufficient for long term change.
2 K. Anders Ericsson
3 Julia Gifford
4 FIRSTBEAT: Heartbeat Analytics
Duncan Young | Head of Workplace Health & Wellbeing
Duncan has over 22 years’ experience working at International Property Company Lendlease, working with a range of clients, both locally and internationally to unlock the opportunities of wellbeing as a driver of high performance. Duncan believes that people are the key to the success of any company and that a healthy engaged workforce create healthy and successful businesses.
Duncan is an evidence based strategist, focusing on workplace health and what makes people thrive, not just at work, but life as well. He is passionate about health and wellbeing and is an expert in this emerging sector.