Do you eat lunch at your desk, work late, or sleep poorly due to stress? HFG investigates how your job can affect your health — and easy ways to put your health first.
Chances are you spend a significant chunk of your time at work. This can be a good thing, as work can often provide you with important mental stimulation, challenges and camaraderie. But it can also be bad for your health.
There’s a lot of research documenting the links between following a sedentary lifestyle and negative health outcomes — which is a worry if you’re desk-bound.
Stress and anxiety are also becoming bigger issues in today’s ‘always switched on’ work culture. So, if you’re an employee who wants to be healthier at work, or an employer wondering what you can do for your staff, here’s what you should know.
Tips for employees
To help strike a more viable work-health balance, follow these 10 workplace tips:
1 Break up long periods of sitting
The average Australian sits for almost 10 hours every day, so stand up for your health and spend some time away from your desk. Head to the kitchen for a cup of tea or glass of water, do some standing stretches, or walk to a colleague’s desk to talk to them, rather than emailing.
2 Make some more friends
Whether you work in a large company or a small one, it’ll be easier to stay motivated for your lunchtime exercise, or to make healthy lunch choices, when you’re doing things as a team.
3 Schedule a walking meeting
Recent research has found that walking increases your creative thinking. Walking meetings are best for sharing ideas and problem solving, rather than detailed analysis or paperwork.
4 Pack your own lunch
The right midday meal can help you to power through the afternoon. Choose good-quality carbohydrates, such as brown rice, wholegrain bread or sweet potato, and lean protein like canned tuna or boiled eggs. And don’t forget to pop in a handful of colourful vegies.
5 Stock up your desk drawer with healthy snacks
A European study has found that women who snack at work consume an extra 100,000 calories each year. To help combat those 3pm hunger pangs, fill your drawer with zip-lock bags of unsalted nuts, fruit, high-fibre muesli bars and air-popped popcorn.
6 Stay hydrated
Keep a large glass of water on your desk and fill it up throughout the day to avoid becoming dehydrated. You’ll get in some extra steps on your way to the water cooler, too.
7 Step outside at lunchtime
Use some of your lunch break to walk in the fresh air and sunshine. You’ll get your daily dose of vitamin D and clock up a few extra steps as well. If you’re among the one i10 Aussies who regularly skip their lunch break, consider this: taking a lunch break reduces stress levels and increases afternoon energy levels.
8 Take time to manage stress
Make sure you make use of helpful stress management techniques. There are plenty of apps to download, such as Headspace, MindShift or ReachOut Breathe, or you could even consider joining a nearby lunchtime yoga class.
9 Hit the stairs
Rather than waiting for the lift to arrive, climb the stairs to sneak in those extra steps during the day. The more you do it, the easier it gets.
10 Speak up for health
If you can see any way — small or large — that your boss can make it easier for you and your workmates to embrace wellness at work, don’t be afraid to let your employer know.
Tips for employers
Workplace wellbeing is becoming more and more important in today’s workplace culture. It’s not purely about what you ‘have’ to do. It’s also about taking a true interest in, and responsibility for, helping the people within your organisation so that they can improve their health — and stay healthy.
On many levels, this is the right way forward for both big and small businesses, benefitting employees and employers. As the World Health Organization has pointed out in its Healthy Workplaces Model for Action: “Promoting health at the workplace is both the right (ethical) and the smart thing (adds value)”.
When you create a truly healthy workplace, you bring about many benefits. Your employees will feel more valued and so will be more loyal, productive and stable. You’ll probably retain staff for longer, and you’ll have less absenteeism. These things can directly translate into a better bottom line.
Create a healthier workplace for employees
. Talk to your staff to find out exactly what they need. Australian company Lendlease, for example, surveyed its employees and found mental health issues were a big worry for construction workers.
. Increase connectedness through team activities. But watch out for inconsistencies that can contradict a healthy message — such as having a Wellness Day, but serving just cakes and sausage rolls.
. Incorporate activities that focus on a variety of aspects of wellbeing, such as nutrition health consultations, exercise and stress management.
. Make it easy to for staff to be workplace healthy. Want more people to exercise at lunchtime? Provide storage for bikes, or introduce changing rooms. Review and improve the food options and kitchen facilities to make it easier for employees to eat well at work.
. Lead from the front! Creating a healthy workplace isn’t about tokenism. It’s vital to involve all your employees in wellness activities, from casual and part-time workers right through to the CEO.
Case study: Workplace Wellness
Sharon Meier, 55
Wellness Program Coordinator in a department at a large financial services company in the Sydney CBD.
We believe that the best way to have a happy, engaged staff is to genuinely care about each employee as a person, not just as a worker. To us, that means being socially connected and also fostering a culture of helpfulness in the workplace, which means caring about people’s physical, mental and emotional health.
Our Wellness Program activities include:
. Optional daily meditation for 10 minutes every morning
. Optional 40–50 minute weekly walks at lunch around the city
. A site where we share articles on health and nutrition
. In-house training that helps build team resilience as well as healthy team habits
. Our leadership team have all taken part in a Mindful Leadership program
. An annual Wellness Day offers optional health checks, seated massage, Pilates and yoga, plus dietitians who provide short nutritional consultations
. We also ran a three-month pilot where a dietitian shared a healthy recipe and a new ingredient each week for staff to try out at home.
Simply offering these things at work has encouraged people to put more focus on their health. They have an increased awareness of the importance of good nutrition, and a new appreciation of meditation and mindfulness. Staff say they want healthy options at corporate events— these days the fruit and nuts disappear long before the cakes or sausages rolls!
Employees talk about health, nutrition and wellbeing far more than they once did.Our staff enthusiastically share their experiences with cooking new, healthy foods. When they talk to their colleagues in other organisations, they proudly tell them what our team is doing.
There are a couple of things I would recommend to other businesses hoping to start a Wellness Program. It’s really important to consult with your staff to find out what’s important to them, and to have a range of activities addressing different aspects of health and wellbeing. Also, never make staff wellness activities mandatory — staff need to be able to opt in and out of activities as their schedules permit. We’ve tried very hard to foster a culture of genuine care for people — and our staff are very appreciative of it!
29% of Australian workers feel high levels of work stress