You can measure your position at the two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing

two dimensional view on the workplace wellbeing, Moodmetric

It possible to burn out of a dream job. For years you gave all your energy and full passion to the work, you thought you could carry on forever. Suddenly you find yourself at home, on a sick leave, with no idea when you will be capable of returning to work. How did this happen?

The two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing explains how this is possible. The above picture has first been presented by Peter Warr.. In Finland it has been applied in research by professor Jari Hakanen from the Finnish Institute of Occupational Health.

This fourfold is familiar to many psychologists but it is new to combine with physiological measurements. Did you know that you can measure your position on this map of workplace wellbeing?

The two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing

Workplace wellbeing has two axes. The vertical axis represents stress/activation. The amount of activation increases when going upwards along the axis. Here it is not yet known what the mood is.

The vertical axis shows whether the mood is positive or negative. On the left hand side are the negative feelings, on the right hand side the positive. Neutral is in the middle. (Neutral is also a totally okay mood at work!)

Which segment are you in?

Everyone can reflect their own wellbeing with the help of this field. The segments of it are explained below. Read and think where you find yourself in your work or studies.

dimensions of wellbeing, upper right

At the upper right corner your employer thinks you are at the right spot. Also many employees, entrepreneurs and students think that this is the one and only place to be. Employees who show high engagement level are emotionally and mentally connected to their organization, work harder, stay longer, and motivate others to do the same.

dimensions of wellbeing, lower right

At the lower right corner there is less speed and and energy, but the feeling is good. A typical day can reside here for many of us. Often it is focus and concentration that makes us productive, without running ahead full speed. Working from home is often a way for better focus. When did you last time work a full day without interruptions? How did it feel, what did you achieve?

dimensions of wellbeing, upper left

At the upper left corner the negative feelings have taken over. Stress might already be getting chronic and the pressure is high. The job performance is still high but there can be feelings of anxiety and insufficiency. One might feel tired and have sleep and memory problems. Still the calendar is and stays full and whatever one does, it does not seem to be enough.

dimensions of wellbeing, lower left

At the lower left corner the body has hit the alarm panic button. Reactions get mild or end up totally. It is hard to get anything done. Nothing feels fun or exciting, it is difficult to get up in the morning. Sleep disorders persist, and the short sleep gained does not refresh. Social relationships suffer, hobbies are left aside, it would be nice just to be alone.

The two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing works outside the work, too

Did you reflect the above, the status of your own workplace wellbeing? Could you position yourself to one of the segments of this field?

Now do the same thinking to other aspects of life. Where are you as a family member, a friend, a member of a community? What things give you energy, which make you recover? Which activities bring you to the right, towards positive feelings?

Can one measure the dimensions of workplace wellbeing?

There are meters for the vertical axis of the two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing. The Moodmetric technology gives data of stress/arousal on a scale of 1 to 100. The lowest Moodmetric level is at the bottom of the field, whereas the level 100 means running on a full speed.

Moodmetric level 100

The Moodmetric data gives automatically your position on the vertical axis of the two-dimensional view of workplace wellbeing. The Moodmetric measurement is like a positioning system of your wellbeing.

There are not yet measurement devices that would in daily life tell what one feels. Facial recognition technologies can detect emotions, but they can not be used continuously and in long term. Thus the horizontal axis real-time position can currently only be determined subjectively.

Moodmetric Diary_Mood

The horizontal axis is important when estimating wellbeing of the person at work. The Moodmetric app Diary feature helps the user to weigh whether the feeling related to an event is positive or negative.

How to make a Moodmetric app Diary entry and how to view the entries at one glance?

Making a Moodmetric app Diary entry is easy. The phone calendar entries can be imported or notes can be added one by one. An entry can be done for any area of life. Below as an example, a workday:

A Moodmetric Diary entry

All the Diary entries are collected to the Moodmetric app Analytics feature. The more entries one makes, the closer the look at one´s life. The entries are shown category by category at a two-dimensional view. The app positions the categories automatically at the correct spot based on the measured Moodmetric level and the self evaluated mood.

Moodmetric app, Analytics
The Analytics feature of the Moodmetric app gives your position on the two dimensional field of the workplace wellbeing

The Moodmetric Diary can be used to estimate own wellbeing at work, at leisure, during sleep or at any other important area of life.

The Moodmetric Analytics is an analogy of the two dimensional view of the workplace wellbeing. In addition, it makes the analysis and positioning automatically.

Are you interested in applications of the Moodmetric measurement?

The Moodmetric measurement is used for preventive stress management in companies. It is a tool for data based individual wellbeing. You can also get an overview of stress levels of a team or the entire organization. The Moodmetric smart ring is also widely used in research.

Do you have a specific use case in mind? Ask more, whether about workplace wellbeing or research.

Contact information:

Henna Salonius
[email protected]

Go to the Moodmetric Shop

Is preventing burnout the responsibility of the employer or the employee?

Moodmetric-blogi: IOnko vastuu työuupumuksen ennaltaehkäisyssä työnantajalla vai työntekijällä?

As a young team leader, it was difficult for me to understand family life. Having no kids, I could spend a lot of my time and energy on work, since my evenings were free of responsibilities. Having no personal experience, I had no idea of the chaos and amount of work awaiting a parent, especially mothers, on return to home after a day at the office.  

Also, luckily enough, not everyone has experienced firsthand the mental mental burden of having to go through a divorce or a family member falling seriously ill. Big life changes always affect your work too and can take away, for a long time, the joy and satisfaction you experience in your work.

Someone in a leading position can, of course, have a family and big challenges in life too; we all know life can be really hard sometimes. This does not mean, however, that all managers understand why burnouts happen. We’re all individuals, we do not react to the same issues in the same way. To enforce the argument, I’m sure everyone can think of someone they know who seemingly navigates through life without appearing to experience significant amount of stress.

What are the consequences of having a boss who never seems to be stressed out?

It can lead to behaviour such as mine as a young leader without kids, not being empathic enough to understand how strongly and wholly stress affects both free time and work.

Whether or not a manager experiences stress themselves, s/he has the duty to actively observe employees to see if the burden is getting too big. If signs appear, the first step is have a discussion with the employee in question.

The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act No. 738/2002, Section 8, describes the employers’ general duty to exercise care:

“Employers shall continuously monitor the working environment, the state of the working community and the safety of the work practices. Employers shall also monitor the impact of the measures put into practice on safety and health at work.”

But how do you define and measure the issues employees find stressful? Moreover, which of these can be argued to be issues the employer can control?

The employer has control over many things that can cause stress, such as company culture, salary policy or physical environment

The most important issues in this respect are equality, integrity and the sense of fairness. Equality needs to be understood broadly, consisting of gender and salary equality, equal opportunities for career advancement and raises, and fair division of tasks and responsibilities.

It is also the duty of the employer to ensure that there is a fair balance between a job description, the skills and competences of an employee, and the objectives of the employer.

Without a doubt, providing a safe and suitable physical environment for the job required is the responsibility of the employer. There are many issues to consider, but let me raise one: In the open office plans of today, is enough consideration taken to secure an environment devoid of disruption and noise for work requiring concentration?

Company culture, ways of working and organizational structure are defined and controlled by the employer, having a big impact on the well-being of an employee.

It is also the employer’s responsibility to continuously monitor the work atmosphere among the employees.

Not all factors related to well-being can be expressed as clearly set rules: The boss just needs to stay alert. Minea Ahlroth, who has studied harassment and discrimination at work, writes:

“A manager has the duty to mingle with the employees, taking the pulse of the organization   and making note of the different emerging signals.” (Ahlroth et. al. 2015, 90)

What if the employer does things by the book? All structures, salary policy, positions and ways of working are fair. The atmosphere is good, for the most part the staff seems to like both their work and the workplace. The employer can not detect shortcomings.

Being responsible for your own well-being is not a choice, it is a must

An employer has a huge responsibility for their staff. They are required to create a workplace that promotes equality and enables employees to achieve a successful work-life balance. A forward-looking employer supports an individual in many other ways too.

In turn, the employees need to tell when things are not going well.

prevent burnout

Everyone able to take part in working life has the responsibility to take care of themselves and their own well-being.

Why? Because an employer cannot know everything that is going on in one’s life. No matter how good the employer, they cannot optimize the work conditions for everyone, let alone their life outside of work. Everyone’s life has shorter or longer periods when one’s mental load is bigger than the opportunities for recovery.

How do we tackle stress at Moodmetric

At Moodmetric the mental well-being is the responsibility of both the employer and employee. But what are the concrete actions?

Naturally the method of measuring stress levels is something available for everyone. This is not obligatory, but it can be done all the time or when the person so desires. Some of us have been wearing the Moodmetric ring continuously for over 4 years now.

The greatest value from the Moodmetric measurement can be derived when the mental load is high. When the stress levels creep up, the person is like a crab in a kettle set to boil – a person does not recognize the heat build up over time.

What can the employee do?

When the Moodmetric levels get higher than recommended, the first thing an employer would need to do is to take action to lower the levels. What are these actions?

We are all individuals, which means that we need to find our own individual ways to lower our stress levels. This is where the Moodmetric real-time measurement proves to be a helpful tool: An individual learns the things which raise and lower their stress levels. Employing some commonly known ways to alleviate stress, such as getting more sleep and enjoying open air activities and nature is a good way to start one’s journey of self-discovery.

And what is the role of the employer?

What are the responsibilities of an employer to support an individual’s search for balance? The best results can be achieved by the employer supporting the individual in the measures s/he has chosen. If there is a need for some days off or shorter workdays or weeks, there should be a way to try and find an optimum solution for all. Personalized options are the key: Even longer breaks during workdays can have a significant effect on productivity.

The goal is common

The employer and employee should work together to prevent chronic stress and often long absences due to burnout. A single burnout is a grave symptom and requires immediate actions in the workplace. The reputation of a company can be severely impacted by its employees going public about their stress and lack of well-being.

Both employees and companies have the common goal of preserving health, attaining a positive mindset and longevity of life. Employees with a healthy work-life balance help companies and organizations to prosper. A happy and healthy employee spreads positive attitude around him or her. In the end, it is, for example, our families who emerge as the ultimate beneficiaries if our well-being at work is taken care of.

Ask us about the Moodmetric-measurement

PART 2: Chronic stress – The brain concludes that we are continuously in danger

The autonomic nervous system regulates the functions of our body as situations so require. Recovery and healing systems are the most active during sleep.  After lunch it is important to digest the food and use the nutrients efficiently. When faced with imminent threat, the immune system and food processing are not important. These functions are turned off to conserve all possible energy for the use of muscles, which are needed in the fight-or-flight response.

By and large, the autonomic nervous system works unconsciously. It is responsible for many vital functions such as blood pressure, temperature regulation, digestion, and function of the adrenal cortex.  It works through the neural network that controls the heart and other organs. The autonomic nervous system keeps us alive without us knowingly doing anything about it.

The autonomic nervous system consists of two complementary parts, the sympathetic and parasympathetic.  When active, the parasympathetic nervous system slows down our heartbeat, enhancing digestion and healing. It strives to calm the body down and keep the vital functions stable.

The sympathetic part is responsible for preparing our body for action, with the axons (nerve fibers) of the system being able to innervate tissues in almost every organ. The sympathetic nervous system becomes active in stressful situations and during hard physical strain.

Both parts of the autonomic nervous systems normally work in good cooperation, but as a seesaw.  When the other becomes active, the other slows down. For instance, in acute stress reaction the sympathetic nervous system works at full speed, in an instant. The parasympathetic part ceases to operate and, for example, digestion almost comes to a halt. The sympathetic and parasympathetic systems have evolved to enable accurate and fast regulation of our internal mechanisms, regardless of the situation.

The fight-or-flight response is a way for us to cope in a threatening, rapidly escalating situation. In the time of cavemen, situations requiring response were normally quickly over and fights did not last for weeks or months. For us today, things can be completely different: The stress reaction might be a permanent state, and the parasympathetic nervous system does not have the chance to return our body to rest.

In long term stress the cortisol levels in our body are continuously high

Chronic stress keeps the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis active. It is like an idling motor, pumping stress hormones, such as cortisol, to our system.

Cortisol helps us to confront the threat, but it simultaneously shuts down the immune system. From the evolutionary point of view, this makes sense: If a crocodile attacks, we can shut down all the functions in the body that are not essential for fleeing or fighting. The immune defense of our body is weakened when we are continuously stressed, and this might lead to a series of infections. Stress factors also play a role in the development of autoimmune diseases, heart and blood vessel diseases, and cancer. Continuous boosts of adrenaline can harm blood vessels, raise blood pressure and increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Worrying and fear increase our mental load and can put further strain on the sympathetic nervous system; physical symptoms persist, recovery via beneficial rest and sleep does not happen.

Heavy cognitive and emotional load during recovery from an illness might be as bad for our body as physical exercise. Our body would choose to put the work aside when being ill.

Chronic Stress affects memory, concentration and appetite

In a state of chronic stress, the brain thinks that a physical fight is about to start at any time. Cortisol, in turn, tells our body to have much energy available. It then enhances appetite and storing of extra energy, with might lead to weight gain.

Cortisol is also released to the hippocampus, the part of our brain which is central for memorizing and learning. A stressed-out person has difficulties in learning and regulating their emotions. There are also often problems associated with concentration and memory.

Burnout

Chronic stress cannot go on forever without its repercussions. Burnout is the consequence of chronic stress causing severe disturbance to our vital physical and mental mechanisms. A simultaneous collapse of our psychological, neural, metabolic and immune systems might be so all-encompassing that a complete recovery is very slow or even impossible.

The best cure for burnout is prevention. It can be difficult to accept the graveness of the situation. People tend to compare themselves and their work rhythms to others, set the bar too high and pretend that everything is fine. Just moments before the disintegration takes place, everything might appear quite normal for the people around.

Talk to your friends and family, colleagues, your superior or a health care professional if you feel that the load is too high. Usually the first cautionary signs are linked to changes in your sleep patterns.

The brain, sleep and stress

When our lives are in balance, we recover from acute stress reactions and even longer burdensome periods of strain. We all experience major turning points in our lives: a newcomer to the family, moving house, a study or work project that is exceptionally demanding. We overcome these changes and challenges when the quality and amount of recovery is sufficient enough.

Sleep is our most important means of recovery and an indicator of balance. Weeks and months of disturbed sleep is a sign of stress, and sleep deprivation further weakens our resilience to adapt to the challenges we have to deal with.

The brain needs sleep. During sleep our bodies repair and restore in ways we’re not aware of. It is almost like we need a nightly reboot to feel physically and mentally well.

There is no health without sleep. The importance of proper recovery becomes clear after experiencing periods of sleeping poorly. At worst life is reduced to mere coping. Unfortunately, this is reality for so many of us, so much so that we have begun to think it is normal not to sleep enough. But this couldn’t be further from the truth.

When we sleep well most nights and feel refreshed in the morning, our body and mind are better prepared to perform well. We are in balance.

The complete set of 5 articles explains the Moodmetric measurement, science behind and the applications:

  1. Part 1: Fight or flight response
  2. Part 2: Chronic stress – The brain concludes that we are continuously in danger
  3. Part 3: Tools for long term and continuous stress measurement
  4. Part 4: The Moodmetric ring stress measurement and understanding the data
  5. Part 5: The Moodmetric measurement in preventive occupational health 

 

High stress levels – then what?

In my previous blog post I promised to write in detail how I dealt with my chronic stress last year. As I told, the turning point was the summer holiday when I started experiencing difficulties in falling asleep.

 

Sleep is the most important part of recovery. I did know that, but one cannot really force herself to sleep and taking sleeping pills was not an option for me. Therefore, I started tackling the stress from another direction.

The very first thing I did was downloading Headspace on my phone. Headspace is an  application using proven meditation and mindfulness techniques to train the mind for a healthier, happier, and more enjoyable life. I had tried Headspace before and was already convinced about its effectiveness. Having also tried other guided mindfulness applications I noticed that the voice matters to me! Andy Puddicombe has a voice that is calming by nature 🙂 Mindfulness is our basic human ability to be fully present, aware of our surroundings, and not being too reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us. According to my Moodmetric levels, mindfulness is low numbers indicating inactive sympathetic nervous system.

However, after trying mindfulness a few times at home during the weekends, I realized it was of no use. It was really difficult to find a nice and quiet place for a meditation exercise. Normally my Moodmetric numbers go down steadily during meditation exercises, but as constantly hearing kids running and screaming upstairs, I could not concentrate. By accident (I got upset for not being able to concentrate and marched out for a walk), I found out that going out for a walk lowered my stress levels more effectively than meditating at home. I continued mindfulness exercises on work days.

Then I gave up on kettlebell exercises for a few months and started going for walks instead. Before, putting my trainers on just to go for a walk, was never really an option. I had this thought that going ‘just’ for a walk was a waste of (sports) time. It started to become clear for me that exercising is a good way to prevent stress, but if you are already overloaded, strenuous exercise only adds up to high stress levels.

Working less during the evenings was an obvious move of course. However, not always being able to refrain from work, I started studying how different kind of work tasks affected my stress levels. Quite soon I noticed that writing e-mails raised my stress levels easily. On the other hand, design or creative work without time pressure kept my stress levels down. As I talked about this with our CEO she had experienced the opposite – going through e-mail was less stressful for her than any kind of creative work. This is a good reminder of how we are all individuals and should find out ourselves what are the causes of stress and sources of recovery.

Also, working remotely from home helped me to keep stress levels moderate (the kids being at daycare, of course). This is probably explained by the fact that I could solely concentrate on my work without unexpected social interruptions.  

In addition, I adjusted my diet a bit. From my previous experience I had noticed that cutting down carbs and sugar kept me steadily energetic. I also started taking vitamin and mineral supplements: D3, B12, magnesium citrate and zinc to fight the stress and help the immune system.  

In October, I started seeing clear results with my stress levels. The change had happened in my mind as well – the future seemed brighter again, less worrying thoughts and more feelings of accomplishment. I was able to concentrate better, which had a clear correlation with getting more work done. All this change in my thoughts even though nothing else had changed in my surroundings. Also no difficulties in falling asleep anymore.  

Mindfulness was probably the most effective action on my way to a less-stress life. Even though I wasn’t doing the exercises for more than two or three times a week, I felt that it helped me the most. According to studies, it takes 8 weeks to get results. In that sense, I would recommend trying mindfulness even if one can not commit to the exercises every day.

One might wonder why the actions I took seem so systematic and straightforward. Is managing stress really that simple? Yes and no.  

Knowledge work productivity and wellbeing have been my area of interest for a long time. I have acquired decent theoretical knowledge of the substance through my work as a researcher, so in that sense I was well aware how to tackle chronic stress as a knowledge worker. In general, the internet is loaded with tips and guidance towards stress free life.

However, effective stress management requires lifestyle and behavioral changes. It is easy to try something for a few times, but the hard part is adopting a lasting routine. I get my motivation to take action by looking at my stress levels on the Moodmetric app.  

The idea behind Moodmetric is that everyone should find out what are their individual sources of stress and recovery. What works for me, might not work for you. The Moodmetric ring is an excellent tool to find that out.

How chronic stress almost caught me

I have used Moodmetric ring on a regular basis for almost two years now.

When I first got to know Moodmetric, my life was not terribly hectic, I did not feel to be particularly stressed. I did not check my stress levels from the Moodmetric app continuously, as there was not much change – figures were quite low, nothing to be alarmed of.

Until last January.

It was already during Christmas break, when I started to notice the first signs. The feeling of hopelessness and a hint of bitterness had started slowly fester inside me. Two and a half years of burdening family life with extreme efficiency had resulted in complete loss of energy. Our family size had undergone significant change few years back, as the number of our kids went from one to three at once. Without a proper safety net, my husband and I had worked like machines to take care of our family. After 2,5 yrs. we were both exhausted and the only thing keeping us sane was being able to go to work to our paid jobs. Yes, it is a bit twisted, that you go to work to recover from family life.

At work my colleagues would have their daily laughs, because I started forgetting things. I would even go to a meeting and be very impressed by a work very nicely done just to hear that I had been part of it. Memory problems showed up.

By the end of January I noticed that I couldn’t pull through my regular kettlebell exercises anymore let alone improving the performance. I was just tired. I wanted to exercise, but I was too tired to get to it.

Then I got my first flu. And a second flu. And a third flu. Soon I noticed that I was the only one in our family getting sick all the time. (By the end of July I had been ill almost ten times.) My immune system had failed me.  

In March I decided to take a personal risk as I threw in my lot with the Moodmetric team. I became a co-owner in the company. Becoming an entrepreneur was something I had always dreamt of, but I had little doubts about the timing. It was a great move for me, but I knew that the positive stress – excitement – could be a challenging combination with the cumulated stress from the family circus. Would I be able to unwind from all the positive stress ahead me?

In April it became obvious to me that my overall stress levels were higher than usual. Wearing the Moodmetric ring, I had data to back this up – I could witness the change in figures from the app. I was alerted, but not afraid, because I am a very good sleeper and felt that I got the recovery I need. In overall I was optimistic about the future.

The spring 2016 and early summer were hectic and exciting. We were rewriting the company vision and strategy, and talking to loads of people with to get feedback. What we heard was so supporting that at times I couldn’t restrain myself from working unreasonable hours. On the other hand, I had started to question my work performance and felt like I was not working enough. I knew I had gone into overdrive a big time, but was hoping that I could make it to my summer vacation.

When July and summer vacation started, I breathed freely again – I had made it to the safety zone and now I could unwind and recover!

Only, that feeling lasted for a short moment, because sleep disorders kicked in. I started having problems with falling asleep and my heart would race for anxiety. Bedtime became one of my least favorite time of the day, because I was afraid I couldn’t fall asleep.

Needless to say, summer vacation came in too late. I had neglected my recovery and crossed the line that I didn’t wish to. I am well aware that one shouldn’t play with sleep disorders. My Moodmetric daily diagrams were screaming red. That is when I decided to start adding more unwinding moments to my everyday life and not just wait for the next vacation. I did not want to welcome chronic stress into my life.

In short, the lifestyle and behavior changes I adopted are mindfulness exercises, less heavy exercise and replacing with long walks, adding micronutrients, prioritizing sleep, etc. I will write down how I tackled chronic stress in very much detail in my next blog, due out soon!

Part 2 can now be read here

Picture: Pixabay