Surveys suggest we’re a nation of workaholics, putting in £31 billion worth of free overtime each year. Despite our apparent hard graft, the UK’s productivity has been in steady decline since the recession. The Office for National Statistics dubs it the ‘productivity puzzle’. We’re putting in the hours but we’re not reaping the benefits. So what’s going wrong?
Many claim that, far from boosting the economy, our overtime culture is working against us. Graham Allcott, founder of Hove-based management training consultancy Think Productive, said: “We work too many hours in the UK right now. Not enough rest equals substandard performance, while working shorter hours changes people’s mindset for the better.”
Our preconceptions about productivity and how it should look - starting at the crack of dawn, working through lunch, finishing late, may well be working against us. An office full of people rooted to their desks may appease a traditional manager, but being present isn’t always an indicator of productivity and we’re already familiar with the phrase ‘sitting is the new smoking’, with sedentary behaviour contributing to 11.6% of all deaths each year, according to a shocking Queen’s University Belfast and Ulster University.
But the problem doesn’t stop at the physical dangers of sitting. Traditional office life, which tends to be structured around start times and set breaks with people working at designated workstations, may be easy to monitor and manage, but it’s not necessarily conducive to productivity. Studies show that the typical person has an attention span of just fourteen minutes. In meetings that drops to thirteen minutes.
Recent studies have found that for optimal performance, the brain requires periods of both focus and unfocus. While in unfocus mode (say, gazing out of a window, doodling, or daydreaming), we engage a brain circuit called the default mode network (DMN). When activated, this circuit requires up to 20% of the body’s energy. Surprising perhaps, given that scientists nicknamed it the Do Mostly Nothing circuit. Beneath the surface the DMN circuit is hard at work, triggering functions such as activating old memories, switching back and forth between the past, present and future, and forging new connections between different ideas. Scientists believe that accessing this new, previously unearthed information enhances skills like self-awareness, creativity, idea-generation and the ability to make decisions.
So what should we be doing to make our time at work more inspiring? At Posturite we’re great believers in agile working - the practice of giving employees the freedom and autonomy to work in ways that suit them and the tasks their jobs require them to complete. Provided staff are given suitable equipment like laptop stands, detachable mice and keyboards and ergonomic chairs, they should be able to work in a variety of environments comfortably and productively.
A key part of agile working is the taking of microbreaks - short but frequent pauses that usually involve stretching, standing, walking, or anything that takes the eyes and mind away from the screen. Microbreaks are important for focus, but they’re also important for posture. How often do you find yourself hunching over your screen because you’ve become immersed in something? It’s these prolonged postures that result in painful (and extremely costly) musculoskeletal disorders.
Microbreaks are thought to induce a range of benefits, from relieving physical pain, to reducing stress and reigniting creativity.
The benefits of microbreaks include:
• Gives your brain a rest
• Increases accuracy
• Increases oxygen and blood circulation
• Disrupts poor postures
• Allows time to process memories
• Improves engagement
• Boosts feelings of positivity
• Avoids mental and physical fatigue
• Lowers risks of aches and pains
While microbreaks alone may not solve the nation’s productivity puzzle, a more flexible attitude to working that considers human behaviour and makes intelligent use of technology, could certainly help put the spark back into people’s careers.
At Posturite, we help clients establish healthy agile working practices by consulting, training and providing suitable ergonomic equipment. If you would like to chat to one of our consultants about agile working, please call us on 0345 345 0010, or visit www.posturite.co.uk/agile-working for more information.
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