9 Tips for Building Better Brain Health
According to the APA 2021 Work and Well-being Survey, more than two in five workers plan to change jobs, up from one in three in 2019. Furthermore, the survey found a connection between on-the-job stress and the likelihood to look for a new job within the next year. Developing work habits that build better brain health has proven to help combat daily stress, reduce turnover, and improve productivity.
What is Brain Health?
Simply put, brain health is the mental well-being that makes you able to manage the demands of daily life. Loosely defined, ‘brain health’ was popularized as a substitute for ‘mental health’ to emphasize its treatability, coupled with an effort to destigmatize the subject. Because it underlies the ability to communicate, make decisions, and problem solve, brain health is critical in the workplace.
The good news is that both employers and workers can improve brain health even with small changes to daily habits. Importantly, changing these habits requires buy in and action from employers. First, leaders can educate their teams on how to build more healthy work habits. Second, they can model the better brain health behavior they want to see in the workplace. Finally, they can provide flexibility, ask for feedback, and show appreciation.
How to build more healthy work habits
1. Tackle the hardest tasks first
Research shows that people who tackle harder tasks first are more productive. That’s because doing hard tasks first ensures there is enough brain power required to complete more difficult tasks. For small tasks, it’s actually more productive to consider whether you need to perform them at all, rather than do them first.
2. Single-task instead of multi-task
Working on multiple tasks at a time causes our brain to switch back and forth. This mental “juggling” results in stress and takes a toll on productivity. Single-tasking is proven to not only help employees work faster but also produce higher quality work than working on multiple tasks or projects. Best practices for single tasking:
- Block off time on your calendar to work on complex tasks and inform your teammates so they know you’re “offline.”
- Technology that was supposed to help us be more productive has actually caused more distractions. Put phones away and log off of platforms that interrupt your focus, like IMs and Slack.
- Take breaks, even while working on a small task. Try the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of work followed by a 5-minute break), use other apps, or just a timer.
- When a single task is completed, take a meaningful break, ideally outside or at least away from all screens.
- Finish a task before starting a new one.
3. Keep a to-do list, but the right kind
To-do lists are a proven tool to prevent work overload. Above all, when employees use them effectively, they are much better organized, leading to greater productivity. Best practices for writing to-do lists:
- Write down single tasks, not goals
- Have separate personal and work lists
- Jot down tasks as soon as you think of them
- Assign due dates to help plan the workweek
- Limit the number of tasks in a single day
- Revise your task list daily, to return to work fresh
How to help employees manage brain health
4. Model the better brain health behavior you want to see
- Take paid leave and breaks and encourage your employees do the same. Make sure they have backups for their roles so work doesn’t pile up while they’re off.
- Avoid emailing employees during non-work hours because they may feel pressure to constantly monitor and respond to email.
5. Set flexible hours for a win-win
- The ability to choose when (and where) to work improves employee satisfaction, while employers benefit from their peak productivity hours.
- Rigid work schedules often result in “presenteeism,” or lack of productivity that happens when employees are not fully engaged, often caused by stress.
6. Say no to pointless meetings—hold fewer, shorter, and more focused meetings while avoiding recurring meetings without an agenda.
7. Provide separate sick and vacation days so employees take necessary time off for their health.
8. Consistently ask for, listen to, and respond to employee feedback—Employee feedback is a powerful tool managers can use to identify and reduce stressors.
9. Show your appreciation—For many employees, positive feedback is a very strong motivator. Even a simple “thank you” goes a long way.
Brain health plays an important role in work/life balance, job satisfaction, and a positive company culture. Successfullly managing brain health at work can be a challenge. However, it can also be an opportunity to help employees build better habits, prevent mental health issues, and increase productivity and engagement.