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Mental health at work: 5 toxic workplace habits that could be harming your wellbeing (and how to fix them)

Posted by for Mental Health

After three months of declining mental health, new research indicates that January is responsible for the largest single-month mental health increase and the highest score since the launch of the Mental Health Index in 2017, despite harmful habits said to be on the rise.

The pandemic has resulted in many of us adopting some pretty toxic habits that have eroded our mental health.

From working excessive amounts of overtime to juggling a million tasks at once, the uncertainty of the last two years has left many people struggling to implement any kind of structure.

But according to new research from Life Work’s Mental Health Index, things are changing for the better.

It states that the mental health of Britons at work is improving as 58% say flexible work is more important than career progression.

Despite this good news, some of us may fall into toxic habits as Bupa UK found a surge in unhealthy workplace habits.

In fact, its analysis of Google search data has revealed that towards the end of 2021, UK employees were turning to the search engine in massive numbers to seek advice about managing these habits, with a 53% rise in searches for ‘chronic procrastination’ between November and January alone. 

The other toxic habits which were hit by an increase in searches include multitasking (which saw a 50% increase), workplace stress (which saw a 30% increase), signs of burnout at work (which saw a 22% increase) and decision fatigue (which saw a 14% increase).

A woman feeling stressed and burnt out at work
Habits such as chronic procrastination and multitasking can take their toll on your mental health and wellbeing.

With all five of these habits likely to have a massive impact on your wellbeing, job satisfaction and productivity (all of which contribute to our overall happiness at work), it’s important to address these issues and make changes to unpick some of the harmful habits that have arisen or been made worse during the pandemic. 

Indeed, as Bupa’s lead behavioural insights advisor Lauren Gordon explains: “With so much change to our working lives over the past year, our usual work behaviours and routines have been disrupted. This is causing many of us to feel anxious, stressed and underwhelmed in our working lives.

“We’ve found that more of us are searching these toxic workplace habits on Google, and it’s more important than ever to know how to overcome these negative traits. For example, feeling exhausted, making more mistakes, and experiencing brain fog are all symptoms of ‘decision fatigue’ and can lead to lower levels of productivity.”

However, it’s not all bad news. Because while it’s clear that many workers are struggling with toxic habits at work, there are a number of ways to break these bad habits – and introduce positive ones in their place. 

To find out more about how you can do this as we head into the second month of 2022, Stylist asked Gordon to share her top tips. Here’s what she had to say.

How to break out of bad workplace habits: 

Set boundaries between work and home

You may know all about the benefits of setting boundaries – but actually putting those boundaries into place is a whole other issue.

If you’re struggling to switch off after work and find yourself worrying about tasks in the evening and at weekends, this is a good place to start.

“It’s important to take time out of your day to switch off from work and spend time doing activities that bring you joy, like catching up with friends and family,” Gordon explains.

“Switching off properly when you’ve finished for the day can help you to destress and feel refreshed when starting work the following morning.” 

A woman reading a book on the sofa
“Switching off properly when you’ve finished for the day can help you to destress and feel refreshed when starting work the following morning.”

Collaborate and communicate with others

Working with other people and sharing ideas is a great way to increase motivation and create a positive environment that makes you feel good.

“Collaboration can help boost innovation and generate new ways of thinking, and communication is an important part of building a positive atmosphere at work,” Gordon explains.

“Taking the time to connect with your colleagues can help to boost team morale and reduce stress levels.”

Use effective stress coping strategies

If you don’t have a toolkit of stress coping strategies you can use when you’re feeling frazzled, now’s the time to start building one.  

Mindfulness is the practice of being in the present moment and is a useful technique to reduce any workplace stress,” Gordon explains.

“Practising mindfulness during your working day can help you to stay focused and use your time more effectively. You could also try a short breathing exercise which will also help to reduce feelings of stress in the moment. Your favourite hobbies (running, gardening and crafts for example) can be mindful too – simply remove any distractions.” 

If adapting to the new world of work is taking its toll on your mental health, you’re not alone. From the isolation of being separated from colleagues while working from home and the stress of relying on technology to struggles with concentration, confidence and setting boundaries, there are a number of reasons why you might find this time particularly challenging.

So, what can we do about it? We’ve got a plan.

Stylist’s Work It Out series aims to give you the tools and resources you need to take care of your mental health at work. From completing your Work 5 A Day to dealing with issues including anxiety, loneliness and stress, we’ll be exploring all aspects of work-related wellbeing.

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Lauren Geall

As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.