workplace stress

Beware the 1:42 p.m. Witching Hour at Work. Here's Why.

It's science, baby: Early afternoon is the most stressful time of the workday. These 5 tips can help.
Beware the 1:42 p.m. Witching Hour at Work. Here's Why.
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Stress from the middle of the workday can hinder productivity, creativity and employee happiness. It even finds a way to affect employees’ home lives. According to a recent Groupon survey, 1:42 p.m. -- oddly enough -- is the most stressful time of day for employees. Survey participants said they felt similar levels of stress at work and at home.

Related: 4 Stress-Management Tips for Reducing Anxiety and Getting More Done

Here are five ways to make the second half of the workday less stressful and to keep stress from following employees home at night:

1. Offer all-day flexibility.

Many employees are finding traditional 9-to-5 office hours a thing of the past, which means that flexible work schedules are growing in popularity. Forty-five percent of professionals surveyed said they complete work outside of the office, according to a July CareerBuilder study of 3,244 employees.

Completing work outside the office can be a perk, of course, but apparently some employees have trouble disconnecting from their jobs.

Offering all-day flexibility, then, allows employees to pick and choose when they want to complete workplace tasks. Having the choice to work when they’re most productive may help them reduce midday stress.

When offering a flexible work schedule, encourage employees to pinpoint a time of day when they will stop working. Smartphones and other technology make it difficult for workers to know it’s okay not to be constantly available. Letting them know it’s all right to break away from work and enjoy home life will reduce the effects of afternoon stress.

2. Schedule time for exercise.

By the time 1:42 p.m. arrives, most employees have been sitting at their desks, staring at computer screens or paperwork, for hours. In a January 2015 study of 56 employees, the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) found that those employees -- following a weekly half-hour walk during lunch -- said they felt that their attention to detail, memory, and attentiveness were enhanced.

Setting aside time during the day for employees to exercise can give their bodies the boost they need to break away from midday stressors. Schedule this time in the afternoon during the most stressful part of employees’ day and a few hours before they leave for home.

The resulting shot of adrenaline will be just what they need to focus in on the rest of their workday and feel a sense of completion as the day closes out.

Related: Calm Down and Take These 7 Daily Steps to Deal With Stress

3. Assist and encourage morning task-prioritizing.

Employees who tend to be disorganized feel overwhelmed with uncompleted tasks in the middle of the day. It’s the time of day when they’ve realized how many hours have already passed and the amount of work still on their to-do list.

Wrike’s Work Management Survey in June 2015, of 1,464 business professionals, found that 94 percent managed projects but felt that there were few consistent project-management approaches at their companies. Stress from poor project-management skills slows production, and carries over into home life because fulfillment at work hasn’t been attained.

Motivate employees to dedicate at least 15 minutes of the morning for setting up their day’s tasks. Offer assistance in helping to rank each task from most pressing to those that can be moved to the next day. Having a list to check off will help workers feel prepared for the day ahead, rather than being surprised by the amount of work left after lunch.

4. Discourage multi-tasking.

Multi-tasking was one of the top productivity blockers in the Wrike Work Management report. With emails constantly coming in, and overlapping deadlines, employees may have a hard time focusing on one thing. By the time afternoon arrives, their brains have been on overload for hours.

Advise employees to prioritize tasks and complete them one at a time. Make a time during the afternoon when it’s acceptable to let emails go unchecked. Tools like Cabaana offer fun "gamified" ways to help companies collaborate with their teams and guide employees to communicate, prioritize and de-stress at the same time.

5. Give reassurances when a task can wait.

Worrying about unfinished work tasks drives a lot of dedicated employees crazy. Thoughts of incomplete projects waiting at the office can make it difficult for them to unwind at home.

Related: Don't Work Your Employees to the Bone: Minimize Their Stress to Boost Productivity 

Employees need to understand which work responsibilities can wait for the next day. It’s also important for them to know unfinished tasks don’t mean they’ve failed at their job. Have an open-door policy for employees to review their to-do list before leaving. Discuss what tasks need finishing before the end of the day, and which can wait for tomorrow.