In our 20 years of researching how to create a culture of wellbeing at Robertson Cooper, we know with some confidence that there is no single thing that will ensure a Good Day at Work.  Indeed, there is a multitude of factors that will support someone to feel the positive emotions associated with a Good Day at Work such as making a positive difference, feeling in control and making a valuable contribution.  

One of these factors is how you organise your workload, specifically whether you have a general approach that attempts to juggle many different tasks at once, or one where tasks get our full attention through to fruition.  One will prove better for your overall wellbeing and here is why.

Most of us are aware of the differences between ‘single-tasking’ and ‘multi-tasking’. The former describes the act of giving a specific job our undivided attention for its duration.

The latter, by comparison, refers to the practice of focusing on multiple things at once and often involves trying to get any given number of tasks to a stage of completion at the same time.

Historically, the stereotype has been that women are masters of multi-tasking whereas men are utterly incapable of focusing on more than one thing at any given time.

More recently, however, science has shown us how this is nothing more than an urban legend.

In fact, studies carried out by neuroscientists from all over the world have confirmed that multi-tasking is actually physiologically impossible for the human brain.

Rather, when we say that we’re multi-tasking, what’s really happening is that our concentration is frantically flitting back and forth between any number of things.

It would seem, then, that we have been culturally coerced into believing that we can strategically split our attention with a sort of efficacy.

As a society, we operate within a culture that champions those who get things done more efficiently and effectively than their competition.

In effect, we’re all locked in a cycle of working to ‘out-achieve’ one another.

This has resulted in the mindset that, in order to be successful in life, it’s imperative that we’re capable of juggling multiple projects at once.

Ultimately, this has seen the modern workplace turn into something of a mecca for multitasking, with increasing numbers of job applicants and employees reporting that they feel there is a pressure to be able to manage lots of responsibilities simultaneously.

But, why is this even relevant, and why should business owners care?

Well, it’s no secret that more and more workers say they feel stressed, worried and overwhelmed with life, yet continue to put pressure on themselves to keep pace with their colleagues and stay on top of everything.

The risk, then, is that people end up taking on more work than they can handle and end up feeling burnt out.

On top of this, multi-tasking makes time management significantly harder, meaning that jobs might not get the amount of attention they require or might not even be completed on schedule. Moreover, research indicates that attempting to multi-task demands considerably more mental energy than single-tasking, which then leads to people becoming unnecessarily exhausted.

It’s not all bad, though.

There are benefits to multi-tasking, both for businesses and for their employees. For example, some elements of a company’s operations need to work in conjunction with other elements and therefore need to progress towards completion at the same rate.

Also, some people genuinely enjoy having the chance to get stimulation from a variety of sources and find that working on different projects helps to break the monotony of a more fixed routine.

Given the unpredictability of life, both personally and professionally, there will always be occasions when we find ourselves having to keep multiple things afloat at once.

But what can employers do to help protect the wellbeing of their staff in light of this?

Firstly, promoting an internal culture change can help your employees to stop pressuring themselves to multi-task.

This is not a quick or easy fix, but by slowly reinforcing the message that they are not expected to take on more than they can handle, it will enable them to start feeling more secure in their positions and better equipped to focus on what does matter.

Also, implementing internal support structures to ensure that staff are able to manage their workload can prevent them from burning themselves out. For example, you could ask that line managers monitor how each member of their team is coping or appoint champions throughout your company who function as a point of contact for anyone who’s struggling.

Finally,  resilience training sessions that demonstrate how resilience strategies such as purposefulness and confidence can support people in adopting a more single-task approach to their workload will ensure your people can start generating the positive emotions associated with a more Good Day at Work.