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How to Create A Healthy Workplace : The Problems of Workplace Stress written by Melanie Eager
A 2015 report from Harvard and Stamford business schools looked at 10 common workplace stressors and concluded that up to 120,000 people die each year from health problems related to job stress. These include cardiovascular disease, hypertension and decreased mental health. In the US, this is higher than the number of deaths from influenza, diabetes or Alzheimer’s. Although this is a US study, the evidence shows that things are no different in Australia. A report in 2013 by Safe Work Australia reported that mental stress costs Australian businesses more than $10 billion per year. During the 2004/5 tax year, more than $133.9 million was paid in benefits to workers who had made claims related to workplace stress. They are the most expensive form of worker’s compensation and result in employees being absent from work for extended periods of time.
So, how do we create a healthy workplace for the benefit of everybody? I worked in a stressful corporate environment for 17 years and during this time, saw an increase in the pressures and demands from management. Here are some ways to help you protect your health so that you can achieve a healthier and happier workplace.
1. SET BOUNDARIES
Research has suggested that the work environment, especially work stress and long work hours, may be risk factors for hypertension. A report in Hypertension (2006) on Work Hours and Hypertension showed that those who worked long hours self-reported more cases of hypertension. At the end of each week, sit down and plan your upcoming week. We all know that unexpected things happen but by planning your work for the following week, you can schedule in ‘down time’ and ‘work time’. Set times when you will not look at your work phone or e-mail, for example during the evening when helping your children with their homework. During this time, just focus on some good quality family time. The emails can wait!
2. LEARN TO SAY NO
One of the greatest things I learnt from having chronic fatigue was the ability to say no to people. Prior to this I was always a people pleaser, taking on more than I could handle because I didn’t want to let people down. The only person I was letting down was myself as I was slowly burning out. Saying no is a very powerful tool for you to have and will help you preserve your health long into the future.
3. LEARN TO SWITCH OFF
When I worked in the corporate world, I dreaded the day when we were issued with smart phones. My colleagues were thrilled that they could listen to teleconferences in their car and check their e-mail on holiday. Every mobile phone can be turned off, or adjusted so that e-mails are not downloaded. Ensure that you set guidelines and make people aware of when you can’t be contacted. Always ensure that you use your annual leave and take this opportunity to unwind and de-stress, away from technology.
4. PREPARE AHEAD FOR THE WEEK – LUNCHES, SNACKS, DINNERS
Take some time each week to prepare food for your week ahead. This could be making bliss balls for snacks, cutting up vegetables for a dip or freezing some healthy meals for those occasions when you come home late and are tempted to stop by on your way home and pick up a take away! Bliss balls or healthy slices freeze very well and can be taken out as required.
5. TAKE REGULAR BREAKS
A 2011 study carried out by researchers from Loughborough University and the University of Leicester found that long periods of sitting can cause the following:
112% increase in risk of diabetes
147% increase in cardiovascular events
90% increase in death due to cardiovascular events
49% increase in death due to any cause
Set an alarm every 45 minutes and take 5 minutes to stretch. Every lunch break, without fail, you need to walk away from your desk and get some fresh air, even if this is a 10 minute walk around the office car park.
6. ASK FOR FRUIT TO BE DELIVERED TO THE OFFICE
Suggest to the office manager that a fruit box is delivered to the office at the start of every week. A 2014 study reported in the journal Frontiers in Nutrition showed that consumption of fruit improves mental health including lowering anxiety and depression whereas chocolate consumption was associated with greater emotional eating and depression. The chocolate consumption group also showed more fatigue and cognitive difficulties. A fruit box delivered to the office every week would definitely help mental health within the office.
7. BUDDY UP WITH A WORK COLLEAGUE FOR LUNCHES
Recently a friend of mine was helping her colleague become fitter, healthier and lose weight. She suggested that they take it in turns to make lunches for each other for a week. The colleague knew that she had to make healthy lunches for my friend to eat it. This really motivated her to reassess what she was eating and her lifestyle. She lost 10 kg within a few months and ran her first 5 km fun run within this time period. She commented that having to be accountable to someone else for their eating choices made her much more concerned about what she was consuming. She is now a picture of great health and this has promoted health and wellness not only in their department, but the whole office.
8. TAKE UP A NEW HOBBY AND LET YOUR COLLEAGUES KNOW
Is there something that you have always wanted to try: African drumming, art class, a fitness class? Sign up for that class and let your colleagues know that on a specific day and time each week that you leave the office to go straight to your class. Ask them to ensure that you leave on time. By having their support and encouragement you will feel much more motivated to ensure that you leave the office on time at least once per week.
9. FORM AN EXERCISE GROUP
Get together with colleagues during the lunch break or before work and form an exercise group. Not only will you feel healthier and fitter, but you will be much more productive when you go back to your desk.
10. WORK FROM HOME
Ask your manager if you can work from home at least once per week. Use the extra time that you would normally be commuting for your health and wellness, for example going to the gym, taking the dog for a longer walk or having some extra sleep that you need.
11. REASSESS YOUR FINANCES AND YOUR LIFE
Last year I went to a talk about household budgets. The presenter discussed a case study where a family’s household income had been halved in the last 12 months as they re-assessed priorities. They looked at what they were spending and where their time was being allocated and realised that although they had a very high household income, they had very little family time with their children. They both re-assessed their jobs and outgoings and changed careers. Now they earn a fraction of what they did before but as a family they have a lot more quality time together.
Look at where you are spending your time and see if you can make any changes. It is not about what you earn, but what you spend. If all else fails, be prepared to find another job that will support a healthy environment for you and your family.
A 2014 report by the Australian Psychological Society showed that those Australians who actively engaged in healthy lifestyle behaviours, such as eating healthily and exercising regularly, demonstrated significantly higher levels of overall wellbeing and significantly lower levels of stress and distress, than those who were not engaged with the healthy lifestyle behaviours.
Author of this article:
Melanie Eager is a nutritionist and wellness coach with a special interest in stress management. With two degrees from the University of London, Melanie is well placed to guide you through your choice of wellness options. Melanie has suffered corporate burn-out and chronic fatigue but with lifestyle choices she recovered and went on to run an ultra-marathon in January 2015.