Working smarter not harder should be the goal in 2024

In late 2023, stark findings from a survey commissioned by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development (CIPD) found that sick leave hit a 10-year high in the UK and stress was reported as the biggest contributor.

Stress was found to be a crucial factor for short and long-term absence, with over 76% of those surveyed reporting that they took time off due to stress in the past year. 

The levels of stress and burnout have been slowly rising amongst employees over recent years, affecting everyone from business leaders to part-time employees. Workplace stress and anxiety has increased so severely that in 2019, the World Health Organisation went as far as to label burnout as an “occupational phenomenon.” It has become evident that we are facing a burnout epidemic and businesses must take chronic workplace stress – and supporting their employees’ wellbeing – seriously.

How business leaders can support employees

Contrary to the belief that a high-performing business is linked to burnout, this connection is not inherent. Recent research by ClickUp, exploring the practices of highly productive UK businesses, uncovered a positive correlation to employee happiness. These businesses not only exhibited elevated productivity but also demonstrated improved job satisfaction, a more balanced work-life dynamic, and heightened motivation among their workforce.

Business leaders should regularly take stock and review how the workplace is prioritising the mental and physical wellbeing of employees. Businesses must also make sure that the right initiatives, suited to their team, are in place, the right tech and tools are available, and employees should have accessibility to digital workplace practices that they can implement to help manage their workload. They should not be apprehensive to change things if they are not working. Ultimately, businesses should be supporting their employees to work smarter, not harder. 

First and foremost, creating open channels of communication is key to a healthy team. Standardised guidelines across the business can help with this, for example removing the expectation for employees to respond to every message or email immediately, which empowers employees to focus on deep work. Similarly, minimising meetings for deep work. Many employees spend their time doing “half-work”; where, alongside trying to complete a task, they are toggling between various apps. This is likely to increase time spent getting a task complete because they are having to to-and-fro between different applications.

What’s more, the distractions that arise from notification noise have a huge impact on employees being able to get their work done efficiently, but also their wellbeing. Even the smallest tasks can lead to cognitive drain, which means those more important tasks are that much harder. Minimising distractions and creating distraction-free zones or periods of time will help employees have the time to focus on the tasks that matter.

Finally, it is important to help employees prioritise management strategies so that they can cope during high-stress times and also feel in control of their workload and priorities. Recognise when those periods might be coming up and provide necessary support. Encourage staff to take regular time off too. It is not a “nice to have”, it is essential and often when work is busy, employees feel less inclined to book that much needed break fearing the workload on their desks will mount up. It goes without saying that leaders do need to be aware of the signs of stress and burnout, for themselves and their teams too.

Get the tech stack right

Businesses should not feel that they need to squeeze as much productivity as they possibly can out of their employees. Improving and driving higher productivity in the workplace is not about increasing the workload demands upon employees – it is about setting them up for success and providing them with the tools and resources to do their jobs as efficiently as possible. That is why businesses need to make sure that the tech they have in place is people-centric and suited to their employees needs.

There is no longer a one-size-fits-all approach to how we work and employers must extend this individualised approach to the technology available to employees. Business leaders need to understand what is not working well, what is, and if there is anything extra that could help them support their ways of working. Ineffective tech solutions are a drain on company spend, but they can also cause frustration, stress, and impact employees getting their work done – leading to burnout. 

As an example, if the business is using multiple platforms across the organisation without a single centralised hub for communication; the solutions are aimed at bringing teams together and fostering connection, but they are not achieving that because there are too many of them. Instead, they can result in team siloes, lack of visibility, and even duplication of tasks. 

When exploring the implementation of new tech solutions, business leaders should also review their processes. Are they outdated? Are there too many? What will the new process look like with the new tech solution? Not to mention considering the toggle tax, which in my opinion, not enough do. I would advise businesses to get employees involved in the journey and see how the new solution could positively change the way they get their work done. Finding the right solutions will not be easy, but it will be worth it. Providing employees with the right tech and resources, and ensuring they have enough training, is a key element of ensuring a healthy team dynamic.

 There is ROI on company culture

For any business, a strong and inclusive culture is the bedrock. Intentionally fostering a culture of belonging, connection, and communication can have a wonderful impact on employees and set your business apart from the rest. 

Investing correctly in your company culture has a huge ROI. To name a few: it can boost productivity in a positive way, teams feel higher satisfaction and motivation, the work environment will be healthier, and retention will be higher. It is a no brainer, really.