The Work Revolution – Part II
The first part of this article dealt with the development of new working models and the related opportunities and risks. If you have not read it yet, you can find it here: THE WORK REVOLUTION – PART I.
The second part of the article focuses on the relation between new working models and employees’ health. My interview partner: Christine Ronge, self-employed sports trainer and former thyssenkrupp employee.
Christine, how do you view the development from regulated working hours towards "new work" models? What opportunities and risks do you see in terms of health?
Christine: I like the fact that we have the possibility to work more self-determined and flexible nowadays. This really takes the pressure out of some situations and counteracts the feeling of not being able to reconcile work and private life. Models such as "work-life blending" definitely allow us to tailor our days to ours needs more easily. However, for these new models to work, some conditions must be met. You need an open team culture that is based on trust. Communication has to be honest and transparent. Management expectations should be unambiguously clear. Imagine you are working from home and have the feeling that you have to answer every e-mail within seconds (productivity killer) so that no mistrust arises. The freedom of the home office can then become an additional stress factor. Likewise, supervisors should not expect their employees to be reachable until late in the evening if they have already started very early on the same day. Otherwise, we tend to get the feeling of being on "standby duty" virtually around the clock.
Are new work models equally effective for everyone?
I can imagine that new work model are not suitable for everyone. For disciplined employees who are able to structure themselves well, it may be the ideal concept to bring work and private life together. For those of us who need structure and regular procedures, working according to this approach may just mean more stress: we may feel under pressure to work harder and prove ourselves. When we are not in the office, we may not take a break and cannot discipline ourselves to say "I've already worked a lot today, I'll take my break now". I would argue that the concept works well for everyone who has a certain amount of self-discipline, likes to take on responsibility, and -above all- is happy with his or her job. Those who are happy do not perceive all parts of their work as “work” and do, for example, not feel stressed if they are checking their e-mails again in the evening. In fact, new ways of work should not be forced upon employees, rather it should be left up to each and every one of us to decide to what extent we want to take advantage of these opportunities and use them for ourselves.
What role do conscious breaks and exercise routines play in new work models?
Christine: Every person is different and therefore needs something different. Unfortunately, there is no “golden” requirement in order for a person to be “balanced”. It is important, however, that we do not only start to act after realizing a problem (e.g. starting to do back exercises after the pain is already there). The topic of mindfulness plays a decisive role here: How mindful am I with my body and myself? Mindfulness and discipline should ideally work together. I believe in paying attention to what is good for ourselves and to how we feel in certain situations. We have to be disciplined enough to "concede" ourselves restorative breaks. Deliberate short breaks, e.g. every two hours, or a longer walk in the lunch break, are important. For some people, it might be helpful to set a timer that reminds them to move at regular intervals. When I am under stress, it often helps me to just close the door, lie down with my back on the floor, close my eyes for five minutes, and take a deep breath. This way, I can consciously relax, calm down, and sort my thoughts.
How do you ensure physical activity if the stress of daily life does not seem to leave any room for recreation?
Christine: The saying "If you rest, you rust" is definitely true. The body forgets the simplest movements and anyone who sits for long periods of time during the day and does not move enough in their free time will quickly notice how physically restricted they become after a certain point. It is therefore important to integrate more movements into everyday life. Every little movement or exercise counts whether it is by walking shorter distances, doing small exercises at work, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. On the Internet, for example, you can find many ideas for simple five minutes workouts on the office chair. Those who try and start seeing the effects - less neck pain or less fatigue climbing stairs - are quickly encouraged to continue. This is the real beauty - even small exercises can lead to big changes.
Kickboxing after work. Power yoga during the lunch break. These are some of the courses you offer for thyssenkrupp employees. How are these offers received and what experiences have you made so far?
Christine: The course portfolio offered at thyssenkrupp is indeed very good and above all very varied. Both internal and external trainers offer a large number of courses at different times to give as many employees as possible the opportunity to take advantage of them. Most of the courses have been around for a while and some of them have already attracted a loyal community of participants. In general, I only get positive feedback and often hear sentences like: "I feel better, stand more upright, and have a better perception of my body" or "I can now finally get into my car without pain". There is high demand for less strenuous lunchtime courses that can be integrated in a normal workday without leaving employees too exhausted. This demonstrates that people are becoming more open to the idea of combining work and leisure.
Balanced and healthy employees can definitely be a major asset for employers. Do corporates view health management rather as a cost factor or as long-term investment in their employees?
Christine: Some companies have recognized the need for fitness and health offers early on and have been investing heavily in the wellbeing of their employees. In doing so, they are responding to an increasing societal demand. How important the health orientation of a company has become to a large part of society can already be seen in the job selection process. Some companies are sorted out in advance because of their lack of health offers. This is particularly true for younger generations. Moreover, I have also noticed that many people nowadays are much more willing to invest money (e.g. for consulting or coaching) in their health. The awareness for one's own health and the willingness to invest resources has definitely increased in recent years – fortunately also at an earlier stage and not only when health problems already prevail. I view corporate health management as a long-term investment in employees. Employees are healthier, happier, more productive, and -under certain circumstances- their motivation and willingness to perform increase as they want to "give something back". It is therefore not only the employees who benefit but also the employer in terms of higher identification with the company, better performance, and fewer sick days and absences. Finally yet importantly, fitness offers can also foster team building, as your DSL team demonstrates during our joint power yoga sessions.
How do you relax and recalibrate your thoughts in the stressful times of digitalization?
Christine: I regularly try to calm down my body, close my eyes, and turn off everything that makes noise. If possible, I also turn off my smartphone so that I am not distracted. I also have entire days during which I am not available. This works really well for me as it helps me to concentrate on the essentials and re-sort my thoughts. For some people it might be a torture to be alone with themselves and their thoughts, but in the end, it is all a matter of habit. I am always astonished how productive I can really be when I am not distracted. However, achieving this requires a certain discipline. Not everyone "dares" to be unreachable and to focus on themselves and their thoughts.
To conclude: how would you sum up your key learnings?
I believe that the "work-life blending" employment model – as a representative of comparable forms of modern work - cannot be categorized across the board as advantageous or disadvantageous because of the different ways in which it can be designed. The advantage of greater self-determination and flexibility is directly linked to a higher degree of self-discipline, which is essential for this kind of work. With more flexible time management and a workplace that is independent of location, employees can deal with personal matters in a stress-free fashion and better combine their private and professional life, but ultimately each employee must be able to set limits and priorities for him- or herself. In the end, it all boils down to a question of personal preference. When it comes to corporate health management, managers should not hand over the responsibility for employee health exclusively to the latter, but are well-advised to do something for the well-being and balance of their employees. At the end of the day, all parties benefit from the employees’ health.
About Christine Ronge
Christine Ronge has been employed at thyssenkrupp for around 15 years and has held various positions in the company, including assistant positions at management and executive board level, internal consulting, and regional offices abroad. About a year ago, she decided to start a small business to pursue her passion as a personal trainer. During this time, she offered training sessions (e.g. power yoga, functional training) both in and outside of thyssenkrupp. What was initially intended as a simple "secondary income" has quickly become a second mainstay. In fact, the demand for training has increased to such an extent that the originally intended sideline activity has turned into a full-time job and source of income. Today, Christine is entirely focusing on her self-employment as a trainer.
We at DSL wish her all the best and thank her for the intense and fun training sessions that we had with her!