We're all working longer days. Many of us commute on top of our working hours and even working from home means the line between work and rest is becoming blurred. With a laptop or phone always by our sides, we've reduced the amount of downtime we take by never truly switching off. Stress and anxiety are now some of the biggest issues we encounter at work and managers are reporting higher levels of burnout than ever before. It's time to take a step back and look at how we can encourage good downtime for ourselves and our teams. Here’s are my top five tips for taking downtime when you work in social care.
1. Break time is sacred
Making sure you take a lunch break will have the biggest impact on your working day. Many of us (and I am just as guilty!) will work through lunch and may not even leave our desk or workplace all day. A survey conducted in February revealed that only a third of UK workers take a proper lunch break. Even more worrying, the number of employees who feel their employers don't care for their mental health has increased. We need to nip this in the bud and help show our staff teams that we take their wellbeing seriously.
Managers need to lead by example by taking regular breaks and ensuring their teams do the same. The HSE recommends employees take 15-20 minutes away from their work a couple of times a day – at the very minimum – this keeps up energy and concentration levels.
2. Get strict with downtime
Workload or staffing issues shouldn't be reasons your team doesn’t take breaks or leave work on time. One organisation I worked at discouraged people from logging into Teams before 9 am or after 6 pm. It was deemed as poor performance because they felt we should be able to do our work in the time we had during the day. It took a while to get my head round it, but it really helped me enforce boundaries and clock off on time at the end of the workday. Here are some other tips to make sure you and your team take enough downtime:
- Keep the day you return from annual leave free in your diary to go through emails and catch up with people. Slowly ease yourself back into work – there's nothing worse than returning to hundreds of emails and trying to reply while also doing your day job!
- After a team meeting, give your staff 20-30 minutes to take a break so they don’t have to rush back to work. This gives them time to digest the meeting, discuss what came up with their colleagues and have a drink or snack.
- For colleagues who don't want to take a break, try teaming them up with another staff member so they can go for a walk or to the local café for a drink. If you're working in a care service with staff who are adamant they don’t want a break, schedule a downtime activity with a person they support. A cup of tea and a chat will at least help that staff member relax for a few moments.
3. Get organised
We all have a colleague who has hundreds of unread emails or piles of paperwork on a cluttered desktop. While everyone has their own way of working, research shows that a clean workspace results in a calmer mind and can improve mental health.
My top tips for getting organised include:
- Schedule time in your working week to do the filing – don’t let it build up until it becomes a burden.
- Have a clear desk protocol before you leave work, so that you come back the next day to a clean workspace.
- Make the most of calendars and diaries - they can give you oversight and keep your organised!
- Start your day by creating a to-do list.
- Focus on what's important and don’t sweat the small things that don’t matter.
- Schedule time to respond to emails and don’t try to respond to everyone at once.
- Schedule time in your diary for breaks.
- After meetings, book 5 or 10 minutes to take a break, grab a drink and digest the meeting. There's nothing worse than back-to-back meetings all day!
A classic management approach is ‘Do it – Dump it – Delegate it.’ You can read more on this here.
4. Stop glorifying long hours
Many of us have been led to believe that working 13 days in a row or working longer hours makes us look good. This isn't true! It leads to burnout and makes it seem like you're not able to do your job in the time you have. I see lots of posts on social media celebrating hustle culture and it needs to stop - call people out and educate them about burnout and its risks. For our staff teams, we can plan rotas so people have consecutive days off and make sure the staff that always pick up overtime are also taking time for themselves. We have a duty to our staff to manage their workloads and take care of their health.
5. Review job roles and hours
The podcast Hidden Brain has an episode called 'Bullshit Jobs' where they talk about how 44% of people have nothing to do at work. On further exploration, I found a number of forums where people report that they only do 2, 3 or 4 hours of work a week. These people are worried about brain rot and don’t know how to fill the time at their desk. It's important to review what people are doing, as there is nothing worse than sitting at a desk with nothing to do - it makes the day go so much slower and boredom sets in. I've worked in some companies where colleagues have fallen asleep at their desks due to nothing to do! Make sure everyone you're responsible for has enough work to keep them fulfilled but not overworked. Studies show that long working hours can be counterproductive and suggest looking at initiatives like shorter working days, flexible hours and 4-day work weeks.
There's much more to consider than these five tips, but I hope these are a good starting point. Think of your own physical and mental health and ensure that taking breaks and downtime is a priority.