Workplace stress is one of the most common problems faced by workers the world over but is becoming particularly prevalent in Asia. The economy in Southeast Asia (sometimes referred to as the Tiger Cub economies) rapidly accelerated, which was great for business but has eventually taken a toll on the working masses.
Stress is such a broad term and can cover anything from mental fatigue caused by long hours to feeling completely overwhelmed. Unfortunately, it’s a fact that in this part of the world, there’s still a stigma attached to any sort of mental and emotional health issues so work-related stress is something that is just dealt with on your own.
Studies have shown that in countries like Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia; the days lost to absenteeism and presenteeism (when workers go to the office but due to illness or other issues, don’t actually work), are rising. The numbers are especially telling when compared to countries like Norway and Switzerland where an average workweek is between 27 and 30 hours with productivity levels increasing annually. This clearly shows that working long hours doesn’t equate to good productivity and can actually be detrimental to performance. Malaysians are beginning to realise this and are veering towards working less hours and having a better quality of life especially in white-collar sectors.
The definition of the workweek under the Malaysian Employment Act entails working eight hours a day up to six days a week. This adds up to 48 hours of work per week; and yet we hear of people working an average of 60 hours and thinking that’s normal! Experts have argued that with the ageing population and people having less children, a sedentary lifestyle and environmental factors, employers must ensure that workplace wellness is prioritised now.
Encouraging workplace wellness isn’t a fad. It’s been proven to increase productivity, boost morale, decrease absenteeism and health care costs, reduce stress and improve the overall temperament of the staff.
What can be done to encourage and enhance workplace wellness?
Work life balance
Most of us work to make a living – sometimes we love our job, others not so much. Bringing work home, skipping lunch and constantly stressing about deadlines means that it will be difficult separating yourself from the office. Put yourself first and make time to do sports, learn a new hobby or hang out with friends and family.
Surviving on three to fours of sleep per night will eventually take its toll and lead to extreme fatigue, low productivity, disinterest with the task at hand and affect relationships due to feeling cranky and out of sorts. Get enough proper sleep (seven hours ideally) and the difference this makes in the office will be palpable.
The easiest and most effective excuse to fall off the fitness bandwagon is to blame work and the long hours. No matter how busy you are, the effects of regular exercise outweighs any excuse. Going to the gym (or any form of exercise) before or after work will increase efficiency, boost your mood and creativity, make you more confident, help you to process information faster and reduce stress. Plus getting and being fit just makes you tougher!
Set an efficient pace at work
The average person will be working for approximately a third of their lives. Setting an effective and healthy pace at work is an important skill to ensure you get the job done well with as little damage to yourself as possible. High-pressure jobs and high-stress bosses are bad for your health and this is proven by rising health care costs and absenteeism. Pace yourself during the day by planning ahead and practicing good time management. Easier said than done but once you achieve the balance, the benefits will encourage you to stick to the schedule.
Foster healthy relationships with co-workers
There’s nothing worse than dragging yourself to work dreading interacting with colleagues, superiors or staff. Emotional and mental well being are as important as the physical and when relationships with coworkers and bosses are strained, productivity suffers. An article in the Harvard Business Review states that a lack of loyalty, disengagement and stress are major factors in job dissatisfaction and high staff turnover. Companies must promote workplace wellness for long-term success.
Go out for lunch!
The phenomenon of the ‘al desko’ lunch is real! Take your lunch hour and step away from the desk and as much as possible, the office. Even eating in the pantry is better than eating at the desk while working; but physically leaving the office is the best option, even if it’s only for a 5-minute down the road to the local coffeeshop.
Recognition and respect
The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that recognition and respect at work is a fundamental human need. Whether we’re the CEO of a successful company or just beginning a career, being appreciated is such an important factor in keeping motivated and working hard to achieve goals.
Changing the work environment and flexible hours
The concept of flexible hours and working from home or a co-working space is gaining traction here. The benefits to both employer and employee are manifold including cost-effectiveness, better worker morale, reduced absenteeism, lower staff turnover and the ability to attract skilled workers who prefer this way of working.
Co-working spaces offer the ideal environment to accomplish all the above in a congenial (and usually very cool) environment; plus offers opportunities to network with people you may not usually meet. The freelance economy is growing rapidly and offers people better work-life balance, less stress (leading to less health problems) and the ability to try new things or even start their own business.
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