Prioritizing Your Health at Work: Is It Actually Possible?

By Beatriz Martinez

reviewed by juliana ascolani

Creating a healthy workplace can positively affect both the employees’ wellbeing and the overall efficiency of a business. Though often neglected, companies can play a pivotal role in their employees’ health while driving the long-term success of the business. Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that companies that promote and protect the health of their employees are among the most successful and competitive.

Prolonged periods of screen time and sedentary behavior usually cause feelings of exhaustion and a lack of focus. In addition to increasing our productivity, adopting better habits at the workplace can greatly improve our health. 

The success of our day in the office doesn’t depend on the number of hours we work, but on the quality of the time we spend there. Prioritizing health at work can highly benefit our overall health and our social interactions. The WHO estimates that 8% of the global burden of disease from depression is attributed to occupational risks, but there are things we can keep in mind to achieve a healthy lifestyle. 

 

What is a healthy workplace?

The Australian Government describes a healthy workplaces as “one where employers and employees work together to support and promote good health.” What can we do to promote and maintain a healthy workplace? Let’s dive into it!

  • Mental stimulation & recovery: It is important to provide mentally stimulating work, while also allowing the mind to rest and recover. Creativity and analysis can flow when our minds are balanced and healthy.
  • Physically balanced: A healthy workplace provides opportunities to exercise and move throughout the day, eat healthily, and take periodic breaks. This allows us to rest, keeping our bodies healthy and our minds sharp.
  • Meaningful, purposeful work: Motivation and passion can make a difference in the result of our work. Finding what inspires you at work can help you maintain your energy levels and engagement with your tasks, greatly improving the end result.
  • Collaboration and bonding: Since we spend so much of our time with them, it can feel like we’re as close with our coworkers as we are with our family. Finding new ways to bond and collaborate with our colleagues can build a strong culture and provide good social health for all individuals.
  • Environmentally friendly: Any environmentally friendly habits practiced at work can influence employees’ personal lives after work as well. It is more likely that employees who are mindful of environmental issues at work implement those habits at home. Recycling paper, using more electronic documents than printed ones, using reusable cups to avoid plastic waste, and being careful with heating and air conditioning are some of the possible green habits you can adopt to create a healthier workplace. 
  • Internal investment: Promoting education, training, and mentoring of every employee is essential to creating a forward thinking culture. 

 

Communication and performance

When a business’ values and purpose align with its workforce, employees are able to make their own decisions without feeling insecure. To create a healthy work environment, employees need to have a chance to share their thoughts and feelings. Thus, open communication between employees and their managers is critical to ensure better outcomes for both parties. If each employee has a mentor, they will be more likely to express their concerns and thoughts. 

Communicating opportunities for growth that are available to employees can be as important as striving towards fulfilling the company’s values and purpose. Once you know how to contribute to the company’s better development, you will also realize how to achieve your professional success. Daily, employees will be more motivated if they know how to further develop and use their abilities and skills to meet the company’s, as well as their own, expectations.

Creating a plan to reward self-improvement can be a great tool for building models that focus on performance rather than favoritism. On the other hand, employees need to know that making mistakes is common, and that constructive, mutual communication is necessary in these situations. The fear of not accomplishing a company’s expectations can affect employees mentally, emotionally, and physically, potentially resulting in insecurities, stress, anxiety, and insomnia.

 

How I prioritize my health at work

  • Exercising: I bike to the office everyday to make sure to start and finish the day with some exercise; this is a great way to increase your energy and get a much-needed rush of endorphins at both the beginning and end of my workday. In addition, I use the stairs instead of the lift every time I can. Taking the stairs is a great way to get some exercise, though we don’t usually think of it that way. Most days, I leave the office 3-4 times a day to take calls or have a break, and I’ve noticed that using the stairs every time I do has made me feel healthier and, as a result, happier over time! Plus, it is a great opportunity to get outside and walk around the neighborhood.

 

  • Taking enough breaks: Once we finish a task, there’s almost always another one waiting right there on the to-do list. However, we won’t finish them any more efficiently by avoiding breaks. Breaks help you keep your productivity up throughout the day by helping you stay fresh and motivated. Sometimes I stand up and just look out the window while stretching. This might seem almost too simple a movement to have any effect on our health, but when I go back to my laptop, I have a fresh mind and more energy to keep the quality of my work high.

 

  • Lunch away from my desk: I used to have an unhealthy habit of eating my lunch while writing emails. But recently, I’ve become more cognizant of how harmful that is for my health. Mindful eating, being present while eating our food, is very important for our wellbeing. Feeling satisfaction, improved physical health, better eating behaviors, and a stronger connection to the environment are just a few of the benefits of mindful eating. In addition, using lunchtime to catch up with colleagues is certainly one of my favorite moments of the day, and it gives you an opportunity to improve your social wellbeing as well.

 

  • Eating healthily: Planning my meals is a must every week. Eating healthily helps me keep my motivation and energy levels high, which in turn increases my productivity. You can try batch cooking and other techniques to help you organize your weekly meals. And remember: hydrate, hydrate, and then hydrate some more! It cannot be understated how important it is to drink enough water throughout the day, as it is one of the most important nutrients for our body.

 

  • Music therapy: Ambient nature sounds or electronic music can help you concentrate on your task; music without lyrics is always better when you need to focus. However, if the tasks don’t require a lot of focus, you can play happier music to sing along to! During lunch, for example, you can play music that is good for digestion, such as classical or slow jazz. You can find different kinds of music for every part of the day!

 

  • Decorating the office: On weekdays, we may often spend more of our waking hours in the office than at home, so creating a work environment in which you’re as comfortable as you are at home is essential. The way that the workspace is organized — including the layout of the furniture and the decorations — can really improve the energy in the office. Putting candles and plants here and there, for example, can make you feel more comfortable in your workplace and even stimulate your creativity.

 

There are numerous healthy habits we can adopt while working that will have a positive impact on our overall wellness. Aside from boosting my productivity, the healthier lifestyle in my workplace has also benefited my social life. Once my workday is over, I always leave the office with a positive mindset and much more energy for the rest of my day than ever before. A healthy workplace can significantly benefit both the company and its employees. When productivity increases, employees will feel better and will have more energy to achieve their goals.

Beatriz Martinez
I am a journalist specialised in international relations, and writing is my absolute passion. I translate my knowledge and feelings into words, a process that has become my profession and at the same time my personal healing practice. I believe that being curious about what surrounds us is the key to educating ourselves and to further being able to express it to others. I love reading and am mostly interested in politics, human rights, social movements, and the passionate world of health.
Researcher

Juliana Ascolani

I am a health researcher who bridges data science and health research with direct experience in healthcare and university institutions, passionately and collaboratively pursuing the integration and synergy of all key areas of health and wellness. I believe in inclusion as the main pillar of our society, especially when it comes to health. Promotion and prevention in health empower people to adopt healthy decisions, thus I have been working during the last years in the development of inclusive and holistic health systems. What do I enjoy the most about my job? Realizing how we are making a difference in people’s lives, and seeing the result in their health journeys. I enjoy the challenge of questioning new paradigms and creating debate around them.

Australian Government (2021). Department of Health. What is a healthy workplace? Retrieved 10 April 2020 from http://www.healthyworkers.gov.au/internet/hwi/publishing.nsf/Content/what#:~:text=A%20healthy%20workplace%20supports%20and,support%20and%20promote%20good%20health.&text=Sometimes%20the%20term%20%27workplace%20health%20and%20wellbeing%27%20is%20used

Communications Staff. (2005, November 1). Tips from Practitioners on Finding Work-Life Balance. American Psychological Association Services https://www.apaservices.org/practice/ce/self-care/balance

Goetzel, R., Henke, R., et al. (2014). Do Workplace Health Promotion (Wellness) Programs Work? Journal of occupational and environmental medicine / American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 56. 10.1097/JOM.0000000000000276. 

Government of South Australia. (n.d.). What Is A Healthy Workplace. SA Health. Retrieved on January 22, 2021, from https://www.sahealth.sa.gov.au/wps/wcm/connect/public+content/sa+health+internet/healthy+living/healthy+communities/workplaces/for+business/what+is+a+healthy+workplace

Grawitch, M.J. & Ballard, D.W. (2016). Introduction: Building a psychologically healthy workplace. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/pubs/books/The-Psychologically-Healthy-Workplace-Intro-Sample.pdf

Puder-York, M. (2005) The office survival guide: surefire techniques for dealing with challenging people and situations. McGraw-Hill Education: New York.

World Health Organization (2010). Healthy workplaces: a model for action. Retrieved 10 April 2021 from https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/healthy_workplaces_model_action.pdf

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