Our research shows that people face a significant workload increase during the summer months. Almost two-thirds (64%) of workers are placed under extra pressure from picking up colleagues’ work and more than half (55%) return from their own holiday to a backlog of tasks and emails.
The result of getting little rest and a rise in responsibilities is that 34% of employees have experienced stress, anxiety or depression over the summer – all conditions that can lead to more serious mental and physical illnesses.
As we wave goodbye to the sunny months, what steps can HR take to tackle these conditions?
1. Plan ahead
Too much pressure is detrimental to motivation and productivity, so it’s in everyone’s best interests to collaborate and support each other during busy periods. Line managers need to work with employees and help them to prioritise workloads.
More importantly, they should also map out resources against annual leave in advance of popular holiday periods, and make the necessary adjustments (such as altering deadlines or bringing in temporary workers) to prevent staff having to take on too much extra work.
2. Encourage healthy activities
During peak times, people often feel the need to work through lunch breaks, get in early or stay after hours to complete tasks. However, a healthy work-life balance is essential to feeling mentally and physically well and remaining productive. Managers need to create an environment where employees feel they can take a break, leave on time and take their full annual leave entitlement.
3. Ask and understand
Regular one-to-one catch-ups will help managers to identify employees that are struggling or overloaded with work, ensuring that support is given as early on as possible. Simply asking questions around areas such as workload can make a huge difference and lets staff know that they can discuss concerns openly and honestly.
4. Lead by example
The best way to show people that they are able to do all of these things is to lead by example. The actions of those in positions of power are often contagious. Take a lunch break, leave on time, try not to send emails late into the night and turn off your phone when you’re on holiday. This might not always be possible, but it should be your goal.
5. Tackle the taboo
In the workplace, mental health has long been a taboo subject. Employees often feel under pressure to keep any problems under wraps for fear of being labelled weak or unproductive. With the latest figures revealing that 70 million working days were lost last year in the UK due to mental illness, it’s clear why it is vital for business leaders, HR departments and line managers to create an environment where employees feel comfortable discussing their problems.
Taking these steps will show people that their wellbeing is truly valued. Help them feel comfortable discussing workload and switching off when they’re on holiday, and create a much happier, healthier and more productive workforce. While breaking down the wall of silence that surrounds mental health in business will take longer, these small but effective steps will put us on the right path.
Patrick Watt is corporate director at Bupa