‘Tis the sea­son to be slack – and stressed

Sunday Mail - - NEWS - RE­BECCA BAKER

CHRIST­MAS cheer aside, De­cem­ber is of­fi­cially the slack­est yet most stress­ful month of the year at work.

Ade­laide well­ness and re­silience ex­pert Gina Brooks said pro­duc­tiv­ity lev­els dropped by al­most 40 per cent in the weeks lead­ing up to Christ­mas.

“At the same time, work­ers re­port an in­crease in stress lev­els of 66 per cent,” she said.

Ms Brooks, who runs train­ing provider Train­ing x De­sign, said work­place stud­ies con­sis­tently showed pro­duc­tiv­ity dipped as stress lev­els in­creased.

“As Christ­mas ap­proaches, it is not just work that peo­ple have to worry about but all the per­sonal stuff as well – get­ting gifts bought, pre­par­ing for Christ­mas Day,” she said.

“Of­ten, there are (fewer) peo­ple in the of­fice do­ing the work as many peo­ple take early hol­i­days to co­in­cide with the end of school.

“(And) amid all the busy­ness and Christ­mas par­ties, peo­ple tend not to eat as well or ex­er­cise as much as they nor­mally do, so this doesn’t help ei­ther.”

Work­skil Aus­tralia’s Liana Rein­hardt agreed the fes­tive sea­son could be an un­usu­ally stress­ful time in the work­place.

“Work­loads can in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly as key cus­tomer or­ders or ur­gent re­quire­ments need to be fi­nalised be­fore the Christ­mas break (and) this can add sig­nif­i­cant ad­di­tional stress,” said the na­tional peo­ple man­ager of the not-for­profit em­ploy­ment ser­vice.

“This is also a time when many peo­ple are fac­ing ad­di­tional pres­sures in their per­sonal lives around Christ­mas plan­ning and end-of-school ac­tiv­i­ties.

“It can be very hard to leave these per­sonal life pres­sures at the work door and anx­i­ety and de­pres­sion are com­mon dur­ing the fes­tive sea­son.”

Ac­cord­ing to the South Aus­tralian Men­tal Health Com­mis­sion, the equiv­a­lent of 19,000 weeks are lost ev­ery year in this state be­cause of men­tal health-re­lated com­pen­sa­tion claims.

Last year’s State of Work­place Men­tal Health in Aus­tralia study found one in five Aus­tralians took time off work in the pre­vi­ous 12 months be­cause they felt men­tally un­well, and only 52 per cent of work­ers be­lieved their work­place was men­tally healthy.

Ms Brooks, who works with lo­cal busi­ness to boost per­for­mance, said the key to im­prov­ing out­put in De­cem­ber was in­creas­ing work­place flex­i­bil­ity.

“If peo­ple are phys­i­cally and men­tally well at work, they will per­form at their best – (and are) 30 per cent more pro­duc­tive,” she said. Plan­ning is also im­por­tant. “The core thing is for the team to get to­gether from De­cem­ber 1 and plan – who is go­ing to be away, what events have (team mem­bers) got com­ing up, what are our pri­or­i­ties?” she said. Ms Brooks sug­gested set­ting syn­chro­nised “block-out times” dur­ing the day where the fo­cus is on get­ting a pri­or­ity task fin­ished.

“These pe­ri­ods, last­ing be­tween 50 and 60 min­utes, should be about fo­cus­ing on a sin­gle thing … with­out the dis­rup­tion of meet­ings, phone calls or emails,” she said.

“Above all, be kind to your work col­leagues and try to be as un­der­stand­ing as you can of other peo­ple’s sit­u­a­tions. You never know what per­sonal is­sues they are deal­ing with out­side of work at this busy time of year.”

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