Helping employees to find the weekend ‘off switch’

Aviva’s research shows it takes an average of 1 hour 49 minutes to shut off from work. Is there a faster route to the 'off switch'?

It’s a familiar feeling – Friday night, and you can’t settle to anything. A friend or partner asks what’s wrong and you reply “I just can’t switch off from work”.

In our recent survey of 2,000 9-to-5 workers, 67% of respondents felt that their weekend is cut short because of a feeling of anxiety about work. This, of course, is distinct from any leisure hours lost through actual work, but in some ways can be even more damaging to wellbeing. The clear indication is that many people have difficulty in ‘switching off’ – quantified by that 1 hour 49 minutes average time taken to forget about work and get into relaxation mode.

It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that employees – and, indeed, their employers – get the chance to recharge their batteries properly at the weekend. High quality downtime leads to happier workers who will be more resilient and productive over the week ahead. But what practical steps can we take to ease the ‘climbdown’ process?

Some of these begin before employees even leave the workplace – from making a meaningful list (with allocated timings) to having a shutdown ritual. 

There are other ways in which the solution to work-related worry can be found within the workplace itself. The way that a business uses emails – and when it expects responses – can have a major bearing on the ability of its employees to relax outside normal working hours.

The culture of an organisation is crucial in other ways, too.  For instance: one in four sales, media & marketing professionals say they blame toxic staff for their inability to switch off at the weekend. It’s evident that techniques to help employees unwind are no substitute for addressing the root cause of anxiety. But that doesn’t mean they can’t alleviate the symptoms…

Taking the battle against work anxiety to the home front

So how can employers encourage their employees to exit ‘work mode’ more quickly when they leave the workplace?

Our research told us that TV, movies or other forms of entertainment were the means by which most employees (55%) try to shed the strain of the working week. And it will come as no surprise that one in three turn to alcohol for a faster route to relaxation.

But there are other, healthier, methods. 

The concept of mindfulness isn’t universally well understood. Some people imagine it to be more ‘head in the clouds’ than is actually the case. Mindfulness simply means enjoying the moment for what it is, without surrendering to nagging worries which we can’t immediately resolve. So you could be practising mindfulness by having a round of golf, watching a football match, listening to music or strolling round the garden. It’s all about living in the present, without mulling over bygone events or those which might happen in future. Admitting to ourselves that we can’t control everything is an important step towards achieving this.

Nevertheless, there will always be times when we find it hard to live in the moment. Heather Buckeridge, Clinical Nurse Consultant at Aviva, offers six simple tips to help re-set from work mode to a more relaxation-friendly state of mind: 

Six ways to find the ‘off switch’ on a Friday night

  1. Take atwo-minute breathing space’ to do no more than simply focus on your breathing.
  2. Notice what parts of your body hold stress. Use the recognition to loosen the muscles around your stress area when feeling pressured. Breathe. 
  3. Awareness. Notice when your mind wanders off and bring it back to the task at hand, the present moment.
  4. Be aware of sensory stimulus. Take notice of what you see, hear, touch, smell, taste. Experience it as it happens. Take time to smell the roses, or savour a taste.
  5. Spend as little time as possible today contemplating yesterday or tomorrow. The only thing you can change is what is happening now. Be present, you might miss something important.
  6. Start the day in positive mode. Do one thing each morning to help you feel better about yourself, and life in general. It could be as simple as telling yourself your hair looks nice today… or, if the weather’s good, reminding yourself that the sun’s shining.

Of course, the single best way to help employees to shake off the trials and tribulations of the week is to combat the sources of work anxiety within the workplace itself. And it’s crucial to remember that what’s good practice at the end of the week will work just as well on a Monday or Tuesday – we should all be aiming to reduce anxiety seven days a week, not two.

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