Here’s how it’s supposed to work: when you get to the office door, you take a deep breath, square your shoulders, and drop your home-life baggage outside. You’re now smiling, confident, Work-You. Yes, you have your challenges outside the office, but who doesn’t? You have work to get on with, and you’re a professional.
Generations of workers have been raised in this leave-it-at-the-door culture, and it’s not without advantages (we’ll get to those). Yet for many people, in many situations, it just doesn’t work very well. And that’s not surprising, given that it ignores one basic biological reality.
The problem with trying to create separate personas for work and leisure hours is that they reside within one brain and one body. Work-You, Netflix-You and Worrying-About-The-Mortgage-You all share the same cognitive, emotional, and physiological machinery. And that means that when something goes wrong with the system, it inconveniently affects you during office hours.
To put this in concrete terms, imagine a young employee who lives with her parents, has difficult home relationships, and is struggling to save for a house deposit. She spends much of her time alone, has a terrible diet, and is often on social media until the early hours of the morning. Lack of sleep affects both her cognitive performance and her emotional resilience, effects compounded by poor nutrition and inadequate hydration. Long-term stressors depress her immune system, leaving her vulnerable to illness, leading to more stress and poorer lifestyle choices.
In these circumstances, hoping our employee can ‘leave it at the door’ is implausibly optimistic. It’s like expecting the central heating radiators to work independently of the thermostat or the boiler.
Problems for managers
Of course, most modern HR and other managers would never ask a troubled employee to just suck it up and get on with their job. But they can be fighting against a culture that’s embedded in the workplace and in employees themselves. And, at the end of the day, managers still have an obligation to ensure their workers are performing adequately. It’s an ever-present dilemma.
What’s more, it’s getting harder for employees to keep home and office two separate realms. With cost of living rises now causing significant hardship, mental health issues continue their relentless rise. And for all their positives, hybrid and remote working inevitably blur the boundaries between work and home.
Fortunately, there are now ways managers can support employees outside of work.
Going beyond the office door
Given that long-term wellbeing problems inevitably invade the workspace, many companies now see the logic in supporting employees beyond the office door. As an extreme example, Google’s wellbeing provision famously includes onsite massage therapists and cooking classes — but also provides free out-of-hours financial advice and counselling.
However, even without Google’s huge HR budget, smaller organisations can provide effective wellbeing support. In particular, the best wellbeing tech offers a cost-effective basis for meaningful interventions that go beyond the office.
With ART Health’s One Wellbeing service, for example, employees can gain a holistic picture of their current physical and mental status, whether they’re at work or not. This is the essential start point for identifying wellbeing problems and changing habits — and often for conversations with HR managers.
The end of leave-it-at-the-door?
With all that said, is it time to dispense with leave-it-at-the-door thinking? Not necessarily. Switching into a detached work mode certainly has its virtues. When we can pull it off, it can give us a much-needed break from the world outside. It puts a brake on our all-too-human tendency to obsess over minor problems. It creates a shared culture where the focus is on work.
But for too long, it’s been assumed that ignoring wider mental and physical health issues is a simple matter of willpower, and that it’s beneficial for individuals and organisations.
Think of it this way: for many years, psychologists and medical practitioners have understood that we are each a gloriously complex interaction of co-dependent systems. Maybe it’s time that workplace support caught up.
ART Health Solutions is a wellbeing consultancy, providing effective, science-based wellbeing recommendations. Our bespoke solutions are generated by gathering data directly from the organisation and its employees. For all enquiries, please contact our friendly team.